Oct. 7 (Bloomberg) -- Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Iraqi leaders must give the U.S. certain legal protections for its forces in Iraq under any agreement to leave some troops behind after this year.
“They have to understand that they’ve got to give us some protection,” he told American troops today at a U.S. naval base in Naples, Italy, the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Libya mission. “If you’re going to play a large role in another country that requires large number of troops on the ground in dealing with that country, I want to make damn sure you’re protected.”
The U.S. and Iraq are negotiating whether some American military personnel may stay in the country past the end of the year, when the remaining 50,000 forces are due to exit. Both governments agree Iraq still needs help with external security and continued training and development of its security forces.
Panetta’s comments come three days after Iraqi leaders said they wouldn’t offer immunity from prosecution to U.S. military trainers who remained. He arrived in Naples yesterday after a NATO meeting in Brussels where he met with commanders of the Libya operation.
The U.S. defense chief also said “good progress” has been made against the Taliban in the decade since the conflict in Afghanistan began.
“We’re on the right track,” he said. “We have weakened the Taliban” and strengthened the Afghan military.
While Taliban insurgents have made some “spectacular attacks,” they were “never organized to really go after their objectives,” Panetta said.
The Taliban have carried out a series of prominent strikes in Kabul in the past month, and Afghanistan blames them for the killing two weeks ago of Burhanuddin Rabbani, President Hamid Karzai’s chief envoy seeking peace talks with the insurgents. The attacks, including an assault on the American embassy, heightened tensions between Pakistan and both Afghanistan and the U.S.
--Editors: Jennifer M. Freedman, Alan Crawford
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