Army has extended Iraq tours for 6,500 soldiers, citing election security

Saturday, October 30th 2004, 11:55 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Army has extended by two months the Iraq tours of about 6,500 soldiers, citing a need for experienced troops through the Iraqi elections scheduled for late January.

No official statement was released, but the Pentagon's public affairs office posted an article on its Web site Saturday that said 3,500 soldiers of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, and 3,000 from the 1st Infantry Division headquarters will remain in Iraq at least two months longer than planned.

The Army had scheduled those units for 10-month deployments, rather than the usual 12-month tours, to stagger the rotation of forces in and out of Iraq this winter to avoid overburdening transportation systems. Instead they will remain to provide security through the elections.

The Pentagon article spoke of ``the troops' frustration'' over having their tours extended. It said some of the soldiers had been told they would be leaving Iraq as early as November. Instead they will stay through January.

Army Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, requested the extensions in late September, and his immediate superior, Army Gen. John Abizaid, made the decision Oct. 16, the Pentagon article said.

The decision appeared to mark the second time in recent weeks that soldiers of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, have had their Iraq deployments extended. On Oct. 4 the U.S. military command in Baghdad announced that rather than complete its redeployment to Fort Hood, Texas, in December, the brigade was to begin heading home in January. On Saturday the Pentagon said these soldiers will begin their return in mid-February, with the last ones due out by mid-March.

The 3,000 soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division headquarters, based in Wurzburg, Germany, will remain in Iraq until mid-February or mid-March. They previously were scheduled to have been replaced in January, before the elections, by the 42nd Infantry Division headquarters of the New York National Guard.

The Pentagon public affairs article said officials had considered deploying the New York guardsmen to Kuwait before moving them into Iraq, but they decided against that ``in light of the high threat level in Kuwait.'' It did not elaborate on the threat in Kuwait.

The 42nd Infantry will be the first division-level National Guard deployment into combat since World War II, reflecting the extraordinarily heavy reliance the Army is placing on the Guard to provide troops for the Iraq mission. More than 40 percent of the U.S. force in Iraq is Guard or Reserve.