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Originally published Sunday, December 14, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Some U.S. troops in Iraq will stay longer

The top U.S. commander in Iraq said Saturday that some soldiers would remain in cities in a support role beyond summer 2009, when a new security agreement calls for the removal of American combat troops from urban areas.

BALAD, Iraq — The top U.S. commander in Iraq said Saturday that some soldiers would remain in cities in a support role beyond summer 2009, when a new security agreement calls for the removal of American combat troops from urban areas.

The commander, Gen. Ray Odierno, said U.S. 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 Gates, who arrived on an unannounced trip Saturday.

Odierno declined to say how many U.S. 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."

Later on Saturday, a spokesman for Odierno, Lt. Col. James Hutton, reiterated that the soldiers staying in cities would not be combat forces but rather "enablers," who would provide services such as medical care, air-traffic control and helicopter support that the Iraqis cannot perform themselves. He said all their actions would be closely coordinated with the Iraqi government, and that all tenets of the security agreement would be followed.

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