Calling Afghanistan an ongoing breeding ground for terrorist groups, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said he wants American troops to keep U.S. bases open in the still-fragile country into the foreseeable future.
Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, stopped short of calling for permanent U.S. military bases, but he said the threat posed by separatist groups in the region demands some type of presence similar to what American forces left in Germany following World War II.
"What I'm looking at is what's in U.S. national security interests," he told reporters Tuesday. "I keep coming back to the point that terrorists are always going to be attracted to Afghanistan. We've seen homeland plots in the past come from there.
"For us not to have a presence, for us not to be able to gather intelligence there, it would just be a huge blunder."
Thornberry, a frequent critic of White House plans to draw down U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, said his recent congressional visit to the country only strengthened his conviction that a too-fast withdrawal will destabilize the region.
He said lawmakers and security planners in Washington, D.C., are too quickly dismissing legitimate advances made by Islamic State fighters in the country, as well as the growing power of other fledgling terrorist organizations.
"It seems foolish to me to walk away from the considerable investment of blood and money that we have made there," he said. "Afghanistan is still very important."
Earlier this year, White House officials agreed to slow plans to withdraw the final 9,800 U.S. troops serving in advisory roles in Afghanistan through the end of the year, but President Obama has repeated his vow to remove all of them but a small embassy security contingent by the end of his presidency.
Pentagon officials have maintained a series of enduring military bases in Germany and South Korea for decades, serving as regional security checks and overseas launching points for military forces.
Thornberry would not say how long a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan should last, but said he believes 2016 is clearly too early to end that work.
"Don't close any of the remaining bases," he said. "Don't make it any worse. Leave what we have there."