By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
KUWAIT CITY, Kuwait, Dec. 11, 2012 – On his first official visit to Kuwait, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said today that the nation is an important partner with a longstanding U.S. bilateral defense partnership.
More than 13,500 U.S. forces serve in Kuwait, the secretary told reporters traveling with him. The last visit to Kuwait by a U.S. defense secretary was almost five years ago, he added.
Kuwait is strategically located at the head of the Persian Gulf between Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The United States and Kuwait “share a history of cooperation that goes back to the first Gulf War,” Panetta said, “and I look forward to discussing with the government of Kuwait how can we enhance that partnership in the face of regional security challenges in the area.”
Together, U.S. and Kuwaiti troops conduct security cooperation activities and are involved in joint exercises and training, the secretary said.
“Our presence in Kuwait and throughout the Gulf helps enhance the capabilities of partner nations, deters aggression and helps ensure that we’re better able to respond to crises in the region,” Panetta added.
The new U.S. defense strategy makes clear the United States will maintain a force presence in the Middle East, he said, and the department is maintaining a very strong and flexible presence there.
With nearly 50,000 U.S. troops in the region, the United States is in a position to be able to respond to any contingency that arises there, the secretary said.
“Kuwait,” he added, “plays a critical role in our ability to do that.”
Panetta said one of the main reasons for the trip is to visit troops during the holiday season, “and to express on behalf of the nation our best wishes for the holidays to all of them.”
It’s a tough time of year to be away from loved ones, he added.
“Since 9/11, so many have spent so many holidays away from home, the secretary said. “I want them to hear directly from me how much I appreciate their dedication, their commitment, their sacrifice and their willingness to put their lives on the line to keep our country safe so far away from their families.
“Our hope,” he added, “is that ultimately, one day soon, they can be home with their families for Christmas.”