Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Duty in Iraq gets extended

One combat team must stay 46 more days, and another group will be sent back early.

By DREW BROWN
McClatchy Newspapers


WASHINGTON For the second time in two months, an Army unit in Iraq has seen its tour of duty extended. It was the latest sign of the strain that more than three years of combat have put on the force.

About 4,000 troops with the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, based in Giessen, Germany, will see their tour of duty extended by 46 days, the military announced Monday. The unit was supposed to end its 12-month combat tour and return home in mid-January 2007, but will now begin its redeployment in late February.

The extension was implemented to ensure that soldiers with the 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, will have at least 12 months at their home base of Fort Stewart, Ga., before they return to Iraq for the third time in January 2007.

Also, the 4th Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, based at Fort Hood, Texas, will deploy to Iraq 30 days earlier than planned.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the changes were in order to maintain 15 combat brigades in Iraq. Last week Gen. John Abizaid, chief of U.S. Central Command, said that the U.S. military would have to maintain as many as 147,000 troops in Iraq through next spring.
U.S. military commanders had hoped to reduce the number of U.S. troops to less than 100,000 by the end of this year, but increasing violence between Shiite and Sunni Muslims has dashed those hopes.

“What these decisions reflect is the flexibility that the United States military has to adjust to a changing environment and a changing situation,” Whitman said.

A congressional staffer briefed on the development said that the Army was moving up the deployment of the 1st Cavalry Division troops by a month so that the 172nd Stryker Brigade’s deployment wouldn’t be extended again. But an Army spokesman, Lt. Col. Carl Ey, said the two developments weren’t necessarily connected.

This marks the third time that U.S. forces have been notified that they’d have to stay in Iraq beyond their original return date. The first time occurred in December 2004, when more than 12,000 soldiers and Marines were told that they would have to stay for two additional months in order to bolster security for Iraq’s parliamentary elections. The second was the Stryker Brigade extension in July.

Last month the Marine Corps announced that it would recall as many as 2,500 inactive reservists, the first time the Marines have recalled inactive reservists to duty since the 1991 Gulf War.

To reach Drew Brown, send e-mail to dbrown@ mcclatchydc.com.

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