McCain and Graham had been vocal critics of President Obama’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011, and they called the reports of al Qaeda gaining control in Fallujah and elsewhere “as tragic as they are predictable.”
“While many Iraqis are responsible for this strategic disaster, the administration cannot escape its share of the blame,” the Republicans said in a statement. “When President Obama withdrew all U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011, over the objections of our military leaders and commanders on the ground, many of us predicted that the vacuum would be filled by America's enemies and would emerge as a threat to U.S. national security interests."
“Sadly, that reality is now clearer than ever,” McCain and Graham said. “What's sadder still, the thousands of brave Americans who fought, shed their blood, and lost their friends to bring peace to Fallujah and Iraq are now left to wonder whether these sacrifices were in vain.”
Citing police leaders, the Associated Press on Saturday reported that Fallujah had “fallen completely into the hands of fighters” from al Qaeda’s Iraq affiliate. The city was a key Sunni stronghold during the Iraq war and the site of important battles between the U.S. and insurgents.
A State Department spokesman voiced concern over the developments, and, in a speech in Baghdad, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki vowed, “There will be no retreat until we eliminate this gang and rid the people of Anbar of their evil acts.”
The senators faulted the administration’s policy in Syria — where they have called for a U.S. military intervention — for fueling al Qaeda’s resurgence. And they said the administration must avoid a similar deterioration in Afghanistan by leaving a residual force of U.S. troops.
“We must apply the painful lessons of Iraq in Afghanistan,” McCain and Graham said. “Talk of a ‘zero option’ must be dismissed as the surest way to squander all of our hard-won gains, thereby allowing Afghanistan to re-emerge as a safe haven for al Qaeda and its terrorist allies. President Obama finally needs to decide on the missions and troop levels necessary to secure U.S. national security interests and support our Afghan partners beyond 2014.”