CIA director Leon Panetta said Thursday that American troops will likely remain in Iraq beyond a 2011 deadline and parried questions about Afghanistan during his confirmation hearing for Secretary of Defense today.
The Senate's confirmation of Panetta is seen as a foregone conclusion, but senators probed him on how he would manage America's exit from those conflicts. He said that Iraq would likely support some troops remaining there to bolster security, though he added that the decision was ultimately up to the Iraqis. The United States and Iraq have long reached an agreement that U.S. troops would depart from Iraqi soil by the end of 2011.
Pannetta said he had every confidence a request would be made, according to the Associated Press.
Panetta was also asked about a timetable for withdrawing from Afghanistan, an issue that has divided President Obama's national security team and become the object of mounting Congressional pressure. Panetta said he supported significant reductions, although he was cut off by Senator John McCain (R-AZ) when he said he could not provide details.
I wasn't asking for specific numbers, McCain snapped, according to the New York Times.
Panetta characterized the America's relationship with Pakistan, as one of the most critical, and at the same time one of the most complicated and frustrating relationships we have.
Pakistan is seen as a lynchpin in America's fight against terrorism but the relationship between the two countries have frayed after U.S. troops conducted a raid on a compound housing Osama bin Laden.
Members of Pakistan's powerful military were outraged that the raid violated their sovereignty, while bin Laden's presence within Pakistan's borders spurred a series of recriminations overwhether Pakistan is harboring terrorists.