Defense Secretary Bob Gates, visiting U.S. troops in Baghdad Thursday, told them it would likely be his final visit to Iraq in the job.
"This will probably be my last one," Gates told U.S. soldiers at Camp Victory, the Associated Press's Robert Burns reports.
Recalling some 14 trips he's made to Iraq since becoming Defense Secretary in 2006, a sometimes emotional Gates thanked the soldiers and said it has been his biggest privilege to serve with them.
Though he has not publicly revealed his exact departure date, Gates has been expected to leave some time this summer. The Envoy first reported that CIA Director Leon Panetta may be tapped to succeed Gates, though the Obama administration has not confirmed its choice, and a CIA spokesman said Thursday that Panetta "isn't seeking any other job" and hasn't been asked "by the President" to take on a different role. (Whether he'd been sounded out by others in the White House was not disclosed.)
After a stop in Saudi Arabia Wednesday to try to repair strained ties, Gates is on a two-day visit to Iraq, where the U.S. currently has approximately 47,000 forces, down from a height of near 150,000 in 2007.
U.S. troops are due to withdraw entirely from Iraq by the end of the year unless Iraqi leaders ask some number to stay on. But Gates said Thursday the Iraqi government needs to decide "pretty quickly" if it wants a continued U.S.-force presence after 2011.Read More »from Gates, on farewell visit, urges Iraq decision on follow-on U.S. force