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Some Troops to Stay in Iraqi Cities Past June, General Says

Posted by tothewire on December 13, 2008

2002086301BALAD, Iraq — The top American commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, said Saturday that some American troops would remain in cities past the June deadline for a withdrawal of combat troops that was called for in an agreement with the Iraqi government.

General Odierno said that American troops would remain at numerous security outposts inside the cities in a support role to Iraqi forces. “We believe that’s part of our transition teams,” General Odierno told reporters in Balad while accompanying Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who arrived on an unannounced trip on Saturday.

General Odierno declined to say how many American troops might remain in Iraqi cities past the summer and said the number still remained to be negotiated with the Iraqi government. “But what I would say is we’ll maintain our very close partnership with the Iraqi security forces throughout Iraq even after the summer.”

Mr. Gates met with General Odierno for an hour later in the day and then was scheduled to return to Washington. Before the meeting, Mr. Gates held a question-and-answer session with American soldiers and reiterated the Bush administration’s pledge to the Iraqi government of a complete troop withdrawal by the end of 2011.

But General Odierno said Saturday, as Pentagon officials have said previously, that the agreement might be renegotiated with the Iraqi government.

“Three years is a very long time,” General Odierno told reporters.

Mr. Gates arrived in Baghdad from Manama, Bahrain, where he warned that foreign powers should not try to “test” President-elect Barack Obama with a crisis in his first months in office.

Mr. Gates also said that Mr. Obama remained committed to the security of the Persian Gulf and American interests in the region.

Mr. Gates, who was speaking at a conference on regional security, said that Mr. Obama and his advisers had done more extensive planning across the government for the transition than at any time he could remember and asserted that they would therefore be prepared from their first day in office. Mr. Gates, who is staying on as defense secretary, has worked for seven presidents; Mr. Obama will be his eighth. “So anyone who thought that the upcoming months might present opportunities to ‘test’ the new president would be sorely mistaken,” Mr. Gates said at the conference. “President Obama and his national security team, myself included, will be ready to defend the interests of the United States and our friends and allies from the moment he takes office on Jan. 20.”

In response to questions from audience members after his formal remarks, Mr. Gates said that although the Pentagon would be sending thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan over the next months, he was ultimately worried about the size of the American presence on Afghan soil. The United States plans to add some 20,000 troops in Afghanistan in 2009.

“I am more mindful than most that with 120,000 troops the Soviets still lost, because they never had the support of the Afghan people,” Mr. Gates said, adding that, “I think that after we complete these troop increases that we’re talking about, we ought to think long and hard about how many more go in.”

Mr. Gates said Iran was destabilizing the Middle East and interfering in Iraq and Afghanistan. He added, “The president-elect and his team are under no illusions about Iran’s behavior and what Iran has been doing in the region and apparently is doing with weapons programs.”

On the problem of piracy of commercial ships off the coast of Somalia, Mr. Gates said he did not think the United States had enough information to launch attacks on pirate bases on land, but he said such attacks might be possible in the future.

The comment appeared to put Mr. Gates at odds for now with a United Nations resolution that the United States began circulating in the Security Council on Wednesday that would increase interdiction efforts by permitting foreign forces to conduct land-based attacks. On Friday in Bahrain, the commander of United States Navy forces in the Middle East, Vice Adm. William E. Gortney, also expressed skepticism about the resolution. He told reporters that he thought attacks on pirates on land would result in civilian casualties because pirates blend in well with local populations.

Mr. Gates said there were a number of “minimally intelligent things” that ship captains could do when pirates approached, like “speed up” and “pull up the ladders.” Mr. Gates added, “This is not rocket science.”

By ELISABETH BUMILLER

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