The Washington Post

Panetta visits Kuwait to highlight partnership

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, center left, talks with Kuwaiti Defense Minister Sheik Ahmad Al-Khaled Al Sabah, center right, after Panetta arrived at Kuwait International Airport in Kuwait City on Dec. 11, 2012. (Susan Walsh/AP)

— Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta arrived in Kuwait Tuesday afternoon for his first official visit to the small Persian Gulf nation, a key Middle Eastern hub for American forces that has gained strategic importance since the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

Panetta said he wanted to highlight Washington’s partnership with Kuwait, whose location allows the United States to maintain a robust military presence — 13,500 troops — close to Iran.

“Our presence in Kuwait and throughout the gulf helps advance the capabilities of partnering nations, deters aggression and helps ensure we’re better able to respond to crisis in the region,” Panetta told reporters during the flight from Washington.

U.S. military bases in Kuwait and Qatar, another gulf nation, became even more valuable after the Obama administration failed to negotiate a deal that would have allowed a continued U.S. military presence in Iraq after December 2011. The U.S. bases in the two countries are pillars of Washington’s deterrence policy toward Iran.

Although the Obama administration has been shifting defense resources and personnel toward Asia in recent months, Panetta said the United States is “maintaining a very strong and flexible presence” in the Middle East. He said there are close to 50,000 U.S. service members currently stationed in the area.

The top regional concern at the moment is Syria’s raging civil war. After reports early this month that Syria was moving its chemical weapons stockpiles, Panetta said U.S. officials have not seen additional evidence in recent days to suggest that embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is planning to use chemical weapons to blunt rebel advances.

“The intelligence has leveled off,” Panetta said. “We haven’t seen anything new indicating any aggressive steps to move forward in that way.” He reiterated that there would be “serious consequences” if the Assad regime were to use such weapons.

One of the primary purposes of Panetta’s trip, among the last he will make as defense secretary before retiring in the coming weeks, is to thank deployed U.S. soldiers for their service during the holiday season.

“It’s a tough time of year to be away from loved ones,” Panetta said. “Since 9/11, so many have spent so many holidays away from home.”

Ernesto Londoño covers the Pentagon for the Washington Post.


Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments

Sign up for email updates from the "Confronting the Caliphate" series.

You have signed up for the "Confronting the Caliphate" series.

Thank you for signing up
You'll receive e-mail when new stories are published in this series.
Most Read


Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
From clubfoot to climbing: Double amputee lives life of adventure
Learn to make traditional soup dumplings
Deaf banjo player teaches thousands
Play Videos
Unconventional warfare with a side of ale
The rise and fall of baseball cards
How to keep your child safe in the water
Play Videos
'Did you fall from heaven?': D.C.'s pick-up lines
5 ways to raise girls to be leaders
How much can one woman eat?
Play Videos
How to get organized for back to school
How to buy a car via e-mail
The signature drink of New Orleans

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.