WASHINGTON — After lengthy delays, U.S. and Afghan officials signed a security pact Tuesday to keep American troops in Afghanistan beyond year’s end, aiming to prevent the country from descending into the kind of chaos that has plagued Iraq following the Pentagon’s withdrawal.
While President Barack Obama has touted the Afghan accord as crucial to protecting progress in the fight against al-Qaida, he’s also insisted that had he reached a similar pact with Iraq, it would have done little to stop the rise of the Islamic State militants now wreaking havoc there and in neighboring Syria.
“The only difference would be we’d have a bunch of troops on the ground that would be vulnerable,” Obama said in August, shortly after authorizing airstrikes in Iraq. “And however many troops we had, we would have to now be reinforcing, I’d have to be protecting them, and we’d have a much bigger job.”
The president and his advisers have repeatedly said they were left with no choice but to withdraw from Iraq. Under an agreement signed by former President George W. Bush, U.S. troops had to leave by the end of 2011 unless an extension was signed.