Defense Department vows 'strong' presence in Middle East for years to come

The decisions will come amid declining annual Pentagon budgets, and as the administration shifts Washington’s foreign and national-security policy focus toward the Asia-Pacific region.

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A major question in Washington and the Middle East is just how many U.S. forces will be stationed in the region — and in which nations — which has dominated the American military’s attention since 9/11.

Senior Pentagon spokesmen on Wednesday told reporters that U.S. officials are in talks with nations in the region about hosting American forces.

While those talks are ongoing, Pentagon press secretary George Little said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is committed to ensuring a “strong” U.S. military presence remains in place in the Middle East for years to come.

Keeping a robust troop presence in the region is seen as a deterrent to aggression by al Qaeda and Iran, as well as check on the latter’s nuclear weapons program.