US troops to stay longer in Iraq as support

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Balad (Iraq), Dec.14 (ANI): The top American commander in Iraq has said that some soldiers would remain in a support role in cities beyond summer 2009, when a new security agreement calls for the removal of American combat troops from urban areas.

General Ray Odierno said American troops would remain at numerous security outposts in order to help support and train Iraqi forces.

"We believe that's part of our transition teams," he told reporters in Balad while accompanying Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who arrived on an unannounced trip 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 under the terms of the so-called status of forces agreement.

"But what I would say is we'll maintain our very close partnership with the Iraqi security forces throughout Iraq even after the summer," the New York Times quoted him, as saying.

Later on Saturday, a spokesman for General Odierno, Lt. Col. James Hutton, reiterated that the soldiers staying in cities would not be combat forces but rather "enablers," who would provide services like medical care, air traffic control and helicopter support that the Iraqis cannot perform themselves. (ANI)

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