It would have been better for Iraq’s security and stability if a residual force of U.S. troops had stayed on after the agreed-upon departure in December 2011.
Thanks to a resurgent al-Qaida and renewed Sunni-Shia violence, the monthly death tolls of sectarian violence have been approaching the dark days of 2007-08, before the U.S. “surge” put a lid on the factional fighting.
THIS SPRING, resurgent violence prompted the Iraqi government to grit its teeth and ask the United States to discreetly send back U.S. advisers, drone operators and intelligence analysts.
The request remains under extended consideration, but there is little enthusiasm for it among the military, in Congress and least of all in U.S. public opinion. U.S. troops are not there because the Iraqi government has demanded that they be subject to Iraqi law, police and courts. U.S. commanders said no, insisting that American soldiers would remain subject to U.S. military law and courts. Absent that agreement, the U.S. packed up and left; it was, and remains, a deal-breaker.
Now the problem is recurring in Afghanistan, where the United States still has 60,000 military personnel, according to the International Security Assistance Force. The Obama administration has talked about slowly drawing down that number to about 34,000 in early 2014. The Afghan government would be wise to grant immunity from Afghan law to the U.S. troops asked to remain there. Of course, the troops would be subject to American military law and American military courts.
THE U.S. AND Afghanistan have a draft agreement that provides for just that, but it still must be approved by up to 3,000 members of a special Afghan assembly called a Loya Jirga, scheduled to meet in November. The agreement must not offend the prickly pride of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Karzai should sign the pact, formally known as the Bilateral Security Agreement, before he leaves office next April. Iran, the Taliban and major forces within Pakistan want to see the United States out, removing a major obstacle to their attempts to influence the country.
Strictly from the point of Afghan self-interest, it would be best if a U.S. presence stayed on — to help stabilize the country, to continue training the Afghan security forces and to ensure that U.S. development aid keeps flowing.
Iraq should be an object lesson to Kabul: Once we’re out, we’re out.