US Defense Secretary Robert Gates says American troops will probably remain in Iraq for what he called a "protracted" period, but he said their numbers would be a fraction of current levels.
Speaking in television interviews Sunday Gates said depending on conditions, US forces could have a more limited role, focusing on border security, military training and finding al Qaida and rogue militia fighters.
The defense secretary rejected suggestions that the military is unable to maintain current troop levels in Iraq for much longer.
On Friday, Gates said it may be possible to reduce the number of US troops in Iraq from the current 168-thousand to 100-thousand by the end of 2008.
President Bush has announced that the 30-thousand additional troops deployed to Iraq earlier this year as part of the surge strategy will be withdrawn by next July.
Opposition party Democrats have said the plan does not go far enough. Senator Joseph Biden (of Delaware), said US officials should focus on moving troops from what he called the middle of a civil war -- and re-deploy them along Iraq's borders.