U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta will get a fond farewell from his Nato colleagues at a two-day meeting beginning Thursday, as the alliance faces a difficult withdrawal from Afghanistan and looks for a new supreme military commander.

Panetta, 74, had expected to bow out earlier but his replacement, Chuck Hagel, has had a rough ride so far in the U.S. Senate which has delayed a vote on President Barack Obama's nominee over parts of his otherwise distinguished record.

"It is great to have Panetta back for a last hurrah!" said a senior Nato official, dismissing any suggestion that Hagel's delayed nomination presented a problem.AFP