US troops will likely remain in Iraq for a "protracted period of time," Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned yesterday. Soldiers would remain as a "stabilizing and supporting force" for the government long after combat troop numbers are reduced, he said in a CNN interview. Gates couldn't say when such a drawdown of the 160,000 soldiers would begin.
He said he preferred to await next month's vaunted security assessment by the US ambassador to Iraq and top military commander. The recent troop surge has helped quell some violence, Gates contended, but politically the "picture is quite mixed." A general last week predicted that the US would be needed in Iraq "a few more years."