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US defense chief sees Iraq war in 'endgame'
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US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday that the Iraq war has entered "endgame", but the situation there remains "fragile".

US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates holds a news conference at the Pentagon in Washington, July 16, 2008. [Xinhua/Reuters, File Photo] 

Speaking before the House Armed Services Committee, he cautioned that US decisions on the war in the coming months "will be critical to regional stability and our national security interests in the years to come."

The US troops will likely remain in Iraq for years in roles that "will change and become more limited over time," Gates said.

Nevertheless, the overall situation in Iraq has improved, he said.

"Even with fewer US troops in Iraq, the positive trends of the last year have held and in some cases steadily continued in the right direction," Gates said.

"Our casualties have been greatly reduced even though one is too many and overall violence is down," he added.

Ike Skelton, the committee's chairman, asked if Iraq remains the higher priority of the US military.

Gates responded that he does not think importance can be conveyed in a "mathematical equation".

"I would say success in Iraq means we are steadily reducing our commitment our level of commitment and resources, particularly manpower for that theater," he said.

"At the same time we are able, under those circumstances, to increase our level of commitment and resources to Afghanistan," he added.

Gates' testimony came a day after President George W. Bush announced he will order some 8,000 US troops come home from Iraq by next February.

(Xinhua News Agency September 11, 2008)

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