Ryan, Biden clash over handling of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

Vice President Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) sparred over how the United States is winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan early in Thursday’s vice presidential debate.

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Biden attacked Ryan on the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq, saying his running mate Mitt Romney would have kept 30,000 troops in Iraq, whereas President Obama brought the troops home last year.

“Governor Romney said that was a tragic mistake,” Biden said.

Ryan responded that the Obama administration supported keeping some U.S. presence in Iraq, but criticized the president for failing to reach an agreement with Iraq to do so.

Ryan also noted that it was Biden who was in charge of the negotiations with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that were unsuccessful.

Biden then pivoted to attack on Ryan over Afghanistan, saying Romney’s position has been unclear over whether he would end the war in 2014.

Ryan responded that Romney “agreed” with the 2014 deadline in Afghanistan. But he said the United States should not be projecting weakness abroad by doing things like announcing a withdrawal deadline.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have not played major roles in the 2012 presidential campaign, but they have had a growing profile as the campaign turned to foreign policy following the terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last month.

The Middle East wars did not come up in the first presidential debate, but they were a central part of an opening segment on national security Thursday night that began with a discussion on the Libya attack.

Romney attacked Obama on Monday for an “abrupt” withdrawal from Iraq that has left the country in chaos in the year since U.S. troops left. Obama has also gone on the offensive over Iraq, bringing up Romney’s “tragic” comments at a campaign event Thursday.

Republican hawks have been critical of the U.S. withdrawal last year. They say a U.S. military presence should have remained to help keep the country secure. Republicans also fault the Obama administration for not trying hard enough to secure an agreement with Iraq.

The Obama administration responds that it was the Bush administration that signed the agreement for U.S. troops to leave in 2011, and that Maliki’s refusal to allow U.S. troops immunity from Iraqi courts made a new agreement impossible.

On Afghanistan, Romney said Monday that he agreed with the 2014 deadline, but that he would base a decision on the conditions on the ground and the advice of military commanders.