Could U.S. Forces Have Prevented the Violence in Iraq?

Probably not, a Defense Department official says.

WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 01: House Armed Services Committee ranking member Rep. Howard P. Buck McKeon (R-CA) (C) welcomes Missile Defense Agency Director Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly (R) before a hearing of the committee about missile defense October 1, 2009 in Washington, DC. The officials from the State and Defense departments defended the Obama Administration's decision to restructure the United States' missile defense systems in eastern Europe, particularly in Poland and the Czech Republic. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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Jordain Carney
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Jordain Carney
Feb. 11, 2014, 2:28 p.m.

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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