Sat, Jun 02, 2007 - Page 7 News List

US looking to long-term stay in Iraq, Gates says

SECURITY The US defense secretary said that the US was mulling a long and enduring presence based on mutual agreement, similar to the model in South Korea

AFP , HONOLULU

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Thursday the US is looking to a long-term military presence in Iraq under a mutually agreed arrangement similar to that it has long had with South Korea.

Gates told reporters here that plans still call for an assessment of the US "surge" strategy in September, but he was looking beyond that to the type of military presence the US would have in Iraq over the long term.

"What I'm thinking in terms of is a mutual agreement where some force of Americans -- mutually agreed with mutually agreed missions -- is present for a protracted period of time," he said.

Gates, who was visiting the US Pacific Command here on the way to security talks in Singapore, pointed to South Korea, contrasting it to Vietnam "where we just left lock, stock and barrel."

US troops have been in South Korea since the end of the 1950-1954 Korean War, with US generals in charge of combined US-South Korean forces in time of war.

"The idea is more a model of a mutually agreed arrangement whereby we have a long and enduring presence but under the consent of both parties and under certain conditions," he said.

"The Korea model is one, the security relationship we have with Japan is another," he said.

US President George W. Bush also has alluded to the strategy shift in talking about a "Plan B-H," that would incorporate recommendations from a commission head by former secretary of state James Baker and former representative Lee Hamilton.

The Baker-Hamilton Commission proposed a phased reduction in US forces but leaving a small force to protect Iraq's borders and fight al-Qaeda.

At the same time, Gates said US military commanders should not feel constrained by political pressure in Washington for a decision in September on whether to begin reducing US troop levels in Iraq.

Currently, there are about 147,000 US troops in Iraq but the total is expected to swell to about 160,000 over the next could of months.

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