Gates tours sites key to troop pullout

Thursday, August 2, 2007

KUWAIT CITY -- Bright flashing lights signal the next convoy of flatbed trucks, poised to move U.S. military equipment into Iraq.

But to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, riding in a helicopter over the U.S. base in Kuwait's capital, the more relevant sight is the broad expanse of surrounding vacant land. It is capable of holding the tens of thousands of vehicles and other equipment that would come out of Iraq when U.S. troops begin to leave in large numbers.

In a 40-minute tour, Gates got a bird's-eye view of two of the most critical parts of an Iraq exit plan: Camp Arifjan, the logistical hub of the war and the busy Shuaiba Port just south of Kuwait City where ships carry loads of equipment heading in and out of Iraq.

Lt. Gen. R. Steven Whitcomb, the commanding general of 3rd Army based at Arifjan, said he could handle more than what some commanders have said would preferably be a methodical pace of one brigade per month; Whitcomb just does not know how much more.

-- The Associated Press

Gates, who is making his first trip to Kuwait since becoming defense chief, is wrapping up a four-day swing through the Middle East.

He spent some time urging allies to bolster their support for Iraq's embattled government. Baghdad's efforts to pass political reforms and improve security are essential to a U.S. troop withdrawal.

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