Signing a security agreement with Iraq likely wouldn't have prevented the resurgence of al-Qaida and the ongoing violence in the country, a Defense official said Tuesday.
"I do think that the idea that if we had negotiated a follow-on settlement with the Iraqis, and had a SOFA [status of forces agreement] and a remaining force, the idea that that force would be able to prevent what's going on is—I'm not sure that that would be possible," said Elissa Slotkin, the principal deputy assistant secretary of Defense for international security affairs, adding that at the height of the U.S. troop surge there were similar levels of violence in the Anbar Province in western Iraq.
Slotkin testified as part of a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the U.S. military position in the Middle East. Republicans have criticized President Obama for shifting what they view as needed attention away from the region. The administration recently deployed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry to push back against the belief that the United States is stepping away from its Middle East commitments.
Committee Chairman Buck McKeon asked what lessons could be transferred from the ongoing violence in Iraq and the lack of a security agreement to the drawdown in Afghanistan, where President Hamid Karzai is refusing to let a bilateral security agreement be signed until after the election.
But the Defense official said she wasn't sure "a remaining force of 10,000 would have been able to prevent" the violence or that the situations are "analogous." The Defense Department is recommending the administration keep 10,000 troops in Afghanistan after this year. It's similar to the number of troops the Obama administration offered to leave in Iraq.
But officials stressed that the administration is focused on helping the Iraqis secure their country, through providing military equipment including the recent transfer of Hellfire missiles and helicopters.
"We have made an extraordinary effort ... to give them the weaponry, and frankly the intelligence support that they need to meet this ... renewed threat," said Anne Patterson, assistant secretary of State for Near Eastern affairs, adding that the U.S. will step up its training with the Iraqis.
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