War & Peace
Gates: U.S. Combat Troops Could Stay in Iraq Beyond 2011 Withdrawal Deadline
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates admitted earlier today that American combat forces could stay in Iraq past the scheduled withdrawal date at the end of this year, Agence France-Presse reports.
Gates, who was speaking on an unannounced visit to Baghdad, said US troops were ready to remain in the country in any role, but Iraq needed to ask.”My basic message to them is (for us to) just be present in some areas where they still need help. We are open to that possibility,” he said. “But they have to ask, and time is running out in Washington.”
Secretary Gates visited troops at Camp Marez, home to many of the 50,000 remaining US forces in Iraq. He also met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, President Jalal Talabani, and Kurdish President Massud Barzani.
Both Gates and General Babaker Zebari, Iraq’s military chief of staff, don’t believe that the country’s armed forces are capable of ensuring full security once the Americans leave later this year. Gates told a House committee in February that the Iraqi government would face significant challenges once US forces withdrew. He said Iraqis would not be able to secure their own airspace and that they would face intelligence challenges and logistics and maintenance issues. James Jeffrey, Washington’s ambassador to Iraq, said al-Qaeda and other militant groups would continue to attack the country. The Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda is claiming responsibility for a March 29 suicide bombing in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s old hometown, in which 58 people were killed and nearly 100 more wounded.
Prime Minister Maliki, however, says Iraqi forces are capable of securing their country. “Our armed forces, police and army are now capable of deterring any aggression, and its capabilities to impose security and stability are growing day by day,” he told Gates.
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