By Jennifer Rizzo
The United States has approximately 15,000 troops in Kuwait, according to a Senate report released Tuesday, the first time the number has been disclosed.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee report looked at how to best promote U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf region after the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq last year, the ongoing Arab Spring uprisings and the dispute over Iran's nuclear program.
It concluded in part that a "lily pad" model of having bases throughout the region to allow for a rapid escalation of military forces is a sound approach.
The Kuwaiti bases "offer the United States major staging hubs, training ranges, and logistical support for regional operations," the report said. "U.S. forces also operate Patriot missile batteries in Kuwait, which are vital to theater missile defense."
When an agreement was not reached between the United States and Iraq on allowing a troop presence in the country it was expected that there would be an increased presence of U.S. troops in the bordering nation of Kuwait.
The Pentagon would not confirm the numbers cited in the report and would say only that there are roughly 40,000 American troops in the area, a sign that Kuwait may not want the numbers publicized.
"The Kuwaitis are extremely sensitive to the U.S. presence in their country," said national security analyst and retired Air Force Col. Cedric Leighton, who claims that there are usually 4,000 to 7,000 troops stationed in the country. "The Pentagon doesn't want to confirm any specific numbers for the concern that the Kuwaitis might get cold feet and wouldn't allow the U.S. to maintain a presence in Kuwait."
The United States also has troops stationed in Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
"The secretary (of defense) has been very clear that while we do this shift in focus to the Asia-Pacific, that the Central Command area of responsibility will still remain a high priority," said Pentagon spokesman Capt. John Kirby.
Central Command is responsible for U.S. security interests in the Middle East, Egypt and Central Asia.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said the United States is trying to figure out exactly what the military footprint should be in the Middle East.
"You know, we're very heavily invested, not only in Afghanistan, but in Gulf itself, as a hedge against uncertainty," Dempsey said. "And so, that part I'm not clear about yet, because it will depend on how the way ahead begins to expose itself with regard to Iran."