U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has arrived in Kuwait on an unannounced trip to the long-time U.S. ally.
Panetta told reporters Tuesday before landing in Kuwait that the U.S. military presence there and throughout the Persian Gulf region helps "deter aggression" and enhance the capabilities of its partners.
The United States has 13,500 troops stationed in Kuwait, as part of what Panetta called a "strong and flexible presence."
"If you look at the overall region, we have close to 50,000 troops that are located in that region," Panetta noted. "And we are in position obviously to respond to any contingency in that area, and Kuwait plays a critical role in our ability to do that."
Panetta also said he wants to directly express his appreciation to U.S. troops for their dedication and service.
Kuwait has been a key U.S. ally since the 1991 Gulf War. U.S.-led forces freed Kuwait from an occupation by forces loyal to the late Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein.
The trip is Panetta's first visit to Kuwait.