Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The U.S. military is delaying the departure of thousands of soldiers from Iraq while speeding the arrival of thousands more

Pentagon moves to buttress U.S. troop levels in Iraq
By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military is delaying the departure of thousands of soldiers from Iraq while speeding the arrival of thousands more as a way to keep more troops on the ground to handle unrelenting violence, the Pentagon said on Monday.

In a bid to stem a rise in sectarian violence between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims that has heightened concern over civil war, the United States has increased the number of troops in Iraq the past two months to 142,000.

A brigade of roughly 3,800 soldiers from the Army's 1st Armored Division, based in Germany, that was to have left Iraq in January is being held in place for an extra 6-1/2 weeks and will leave in late February, the Pentagon said.

These soldiers are now set to serve roughly 13 months in Iraq, longer than the policy of 12-month tours of duty for Army soldiers. They are in the area of Ramadi, capital of Anbar province in western Iraq, the heartland of the Sunni Arab insurgency.

Meanwhile, a similarly sized Texas-based Army brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division will go to Iraq a month earlier than previously scheduled, beginning its deployment in late October, the Pentagon said.

Both moves enable the Pentagon to bolster troop levels in Iraq without actually deploying soldiers not already due to go. But the timing reflects what some military experts have called the growing strain on the Army in continuing to provide large numbers of combat troops for Iraq and Afghanistan.

A Pentagon statement said the moves "are necessary to maintain the current force structure in Iraq into the spring of next year."

It is the second time in two months that the military has extended a brigade beyond its planned departure date to deal with unabated violence in Iraq 3 1/2 years into the war.

Army Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, said last week the United States is likely to keep more than 140,000 troops in Iraq through at least next spring. President George W. Bush has acknowledged he had hoped to begin reducing troop levels by now but was thwarted by the persistent violence.


"There's no question but that any time there's a war, the forces of the countries involved are asked to do a great deal," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters.

"From time to time, there may be units that will be asked to increase the number of days in-country from what had been anticipated. On the other hand, we're also bringing you some other units in earlier, which is another way of dealing with that issue."

By extending a unit scheduled to leave Iraq, the Army can maintain or bolster troop levels without having to send reinforcements from outside the country. Bu such action often provokes anger and disappointment among soldiers and families.

Some military experts have said the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have stretched the Army nearly to breaking point, with many soldiers serving two or three tours of duty and equipment wearing out at alarming rates.

Pentagon policy is for Army soldiers to serve 12-month tours in Iraq and Marines seven months. Troops who serve longer get extra pay.

The Pentagon said delaying the departure of the 1st Armored Division brigade will give another unit due to go to Iraq in January -- a brigade of the Georgia-based 3rd Infantry Division -- a full year of rest since it last saw combat.

At key times in the war such as Iraqi elections in 2005 and the return of sovereignty in 2004, the Pentagon has delayed troop departures to beef up the U.S. presence.