WASHINGTON — Iraq has agreed to keep American troops in Iraq beyond a year-end deadline for their withdrawal, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Friday.
“My view is that they finally did say, ?Yes,'” Panetta said in an interview with Stars and Stripes and the Military Times.
Iraqi political leaders announced on August 3 that they would open talks with the United States over a possible training mission after 2011 but have yet to say definitively if some American troops would remain.
All of the 46,000 US troops still in Iraq must pull out by the end of the year under the terms of a 2008 security agreement.
But both US and Iraqi military officers acknowledge Iraq’s forces need outside assistance to defend the country’s air space, ports and borders.
While negotiations continue on the outlines of a training mission, the planned withdrawal of US combat troops by the end of 2011 will proceed, Panetta said.
“We will fulfill the commitment that we are going to take all of the combat forces out of Iraq,” Panetta said.