By Justin Sink - 06/12/14 02:57 PM EDT
The crisis in Iraq will not alter U.S. plans to withdraw military troops from Afghanistan, the White House said Thursday.
"It does not change the approach that the president announced recently that we are taking in Afghanistan," said White House press secretary Jay Carney.
Carney’s comments come as Islamist militants advanced near Baghdad after capturing a wide swath of northern Iraq, including key cities and oil fields.
Al Qaeda-aligned Sunni rebels have seized Tikrit and Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, taking control of government and military facilities. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians have fled their homes amid the violence.
Earlier Thursday, Republican leaders on Capitol Hill criticized the Obama administration, saying the decision to withdraw all U.S. combat troops had left Iraqi forces unprepared.
"All of this could have been avoided," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) blamed the "unraveling" on the White House failing to secure a status of forces agreement with the Iraq government that would have allowed U.S. troops to remain.
The White House, though, insists sectarian violence in Iraq won’t alter plans announced by the president late last month to pull out the last American troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016.
Under the plan, the U.S. would reduce its current 32,000 troops to 9,800 by the end of this year. That number would be cut in half by the end of 2015, after which only a small force would remain to protect the embassy in Kabul and manage security arrangements.
Republicans have warned the plan could foster sectarian violence similar to what is occurring in Iraq.
Carney said Obama had determined "we cannot have U.S. forces around the world, you know, in armed conflicts without end."
"It's simply not a wise approach to our national security interest," he added.
Carney said the criticism invited a "broader question" about whether American troops should be fighting in Iraq today.
"Should American forces be occupying countries for decades, or should we take the approach that the president took when he ended the war in Iraq and established a relationship with the sovereign government of Iraq, through which we can provide the kind of assistance we provide," Carney asked.
"That's the approach that he believes is the right approach to take, and it's certainly consistent with the strategy he's laid out in Afghanistan," he said.
Carney said Republican critics like McCain and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) were attacking Obama’s decision to pull out of Iraq but were themselves reluctant to advocate sending back ground troops.
"I'm not a logic expert, but there’s a little inconstancy in those statements," Carney said.