Pentagon sending more troops to Iraq
AP Military Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) – The Pentagon has decided to bolster U.S. forces in Iraq in advance of elections scheduled for late January by sending elements of the 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, N.C., and extending the tours of duty for other units already in Iraq, officials said Wednesday.
At least two Army brigades now operating in northern Iraq will have their tours extended by about two months, until after the election, an Army official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Also, a unit of about 2,000 Marines will stay longer than planned, though won’t exceed the seven-month limit that the Marine Corps places on Iraq deployments, another official said. The Army generally sends its troops to Iraq for 12 months.
The decisions were to be announced later Wednesday. Members of two battalions of the 82nd Airborne, and their families, were notified of the decision Tuesday, the official said. The battalions were given what the Army calls a warning order, alerting them that they will be going.
A battalion generally numbers about 500 to 600 troops.
The 82nd Airborne is generally relied upon by the Army to keep one of its three brigades on short-notice alert year-round to deploy abroad in the event of a crisis. Shortly before the October elections in Afghanistan, elements of the 82nd Airborne were sent there to beef up security.
Military officials have said repeatedly in recent weeks that they were considering whether more American troops would be required to provide sufficient security in advance of the Jan. 30 election.
In late October the Pentagon announced a decision to keep about 6,500 soldiers in Iraq longer than scheduled, until after the elections. They are members of the 2nd “Black Jack” Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division and soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division headquarters.
Since then officials have suggested the likelihood that some other units would be extended.
As recently as Tuesday, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said commanders in Iraq were still studying troop requirements ahead of the election. He was quoted by the Pentagon’s internal news service as saying in Indianapolis that the number of troops needed was “to be determined.”
The moves to be announced Wednesday are in line with expectations – a combination of holding some troops in Iraq longer than scheduled and sending some fresh forces from the United States.
The United States now has about 138,000 troops in Iraq. It is in the midst of swapping out units that have been there for a full year with fresh forces, including the 3rd Infantry Division, which helped spearhead the original invasion and toppling of Baghdad in the spring of 2003.
Officials have said they were considering sending some elements of the 3rd Infantry to Iraq earlier than scheduled, as part of a force-bolstering plan. It was not clear Wednesday whether that decision had been made, but some officials suggested it was unlikely.
Security problems are most severe in the so-called Sunni Triangle area north and west of Baghdad, as well as in the capital itself. Voter registration has not yet begun in the more unstable cities such as Fallujah and Ramadi, west of Baghdad.
Recently there also has been trouble in the northern city of Mosul. On Wednesday, U.S. soldiers traveling through Mosul on a mission to discuss the January election with Iraqis came under fire at a gasoline station, witnesses said. One U.S. soldier was wounded in the ensuing gunbattle.