By Russell Berman - 04/14/14 10:48 AM EDT
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is visiting Afghanistan with a group of senior House members in a trip aimed as assessing political progress and security as the nation holds pivotal elections ahead of the planned withdrawal of U.S. forces.
The election's outcome will likely decide whether the U.S. is able to sign a security agreement with Afghanistan that would allow American troops to remain in the country with immunity. Without a deal, all American forces would be withdrawn at the end of the NATO combat mission in December, which officials fear could lead to an Al Qaeda resurgence.
Boehner met with U.S. troops and with Ambassador James Cunningham and Gen. Joseph Dunford, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
The Speaker has called on President Obama to strike a security agreement that would keep U.S. forces in Afghanistan to help protect security gains in the country, and Boehner’s office said Monday that the delegation “sent a strong, unequivocal message that the House of Representatives wants to maintain a right-sized presence in Afghanistan to successfully complete the work that has been done to date, and to honor the sacrifice of thousands of troops and civilians, as well as their families.”
"Since shortly after 9/11," Boehner said in a statement, "our troops have fought to bring peace and security to Afghanistan and to ensure it can never again be used as a safe haven for terrorists to attack the United States."
“Many Americans have sacrificed to secure these goals, and far too many have made the ultimate sacrifice or suffered life-changing wounds in the past twelve years of fighting,” he continued. “Now, the Afghans are poised to elect a new government for the first time in their history. We must honor the sacrifices of the Americans and Afghans who have given so much to reach this point and continue our work together.”
The visit to Afghanistan is one of several overseas stops for Boehner at the start of a two-week Easter recess for the House. His office would not provide other countries on his itinerary, citing security reasons.
The lawmakers joining Boehner are Reps. John Kline (R-Minn.), Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), Dave Camp (R-Mich.), Tom Latham (R-Iowa), Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), Greg Walden (R-Ore.), and Steve Womack (R-Ark).
Boehner last visited Afghanistan in 2011, his first year as Speaker.
Kristina Wong contributed.
This story was updated at 1:07 p.m.