WASHINGTON—Instead of returning home to Alaska in coming weeks after a year of combat duty in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, the Army's 172nd Stryker Brigade will remain in Iraq for as many as four more months, the Defense Department announced Thursday.
Though no official announcement has been made yet, the brigade's 3,500 troops are expected to redeploy to Baghdad as part of a plan, announced by President Bush earlier this week, to bolster U.S. forces in the Iraqi capital in response to a surge of sectarian attacks that threaten to plunge Iraq into full-scale civil war.
A defense official, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity in accordance with Pentagon rules, said that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had approved the 120-day extension for the troops from Alaska. He said that Rumsfeld would have to issue a new approval to extend the troops beyond that.
The brigade, based at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks, Alaska, is a logical choice for the sprawling metropolis because its 21-ton Stryker vehicles are quiet, fairly fast and agile in city streets. The vehicles have stood up well to roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades, the insurgents' preferred methods of attacking U.S. forces.
Another of the Army's four Stryker brigades, the 3rd Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division from Fort Lewis, Wash., is en route to Iraq, where it was scheduled to relieve the 172nd Brigade in Mosul. Some or all of it could now be sent to Baghdad, defense officials said.
The Pentagon also identified four additional Army and Marine Corps units, with a total of about 25,000 troops, which now will deploy to Iraq in late 2006 to augment a regularly scheduled rotation of U.S. forces.
The units include the 1st and 4th Brigades of the Army's 1st Cavalry Division, based at Fort Hood, Texas, and the Marines' Regimental Combat Teams 2 and 6, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Another 3,500 soldiers from the 1st Brigade of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, based at Fort Stewart, Ga., have been placed on standby for possible deployment later this year, the Pentagon said.
The additional soldiers and Marines will join 86,000 other troops who earlier this year were notified for deployment. They're from:
_ Headquarters, 2nd and 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.
_ 2nd and 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colo., and Fort Lewis, Wash.
_ Division Headquarters, 3rd and 4th Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, and Fort Richardson, Alaska.
_ 3rd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Div., Fort Bragg, N.C.
_ 1st Brigade, 34th Infantry Div., Minnesota Army National Guard.
_ 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force from Camp Lejeune, N.C.
_ 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, Schweinfurt, Germany.
_ 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y.
_ 13th Corps Support Command, Fort Hood, Texas.
_ 3rd Corps Headquarters, Fort Hood, Texas.
Virtually all the units deploying to Iraq later this year have spent at least one previous tour in the combat zone.
There are about 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, slightly below the baseline average for U.S. forces for much of the past two years.
Pentagon officials had hoped to reduce U.S. forces in Iraq below 100,000 by the end of the year. But deteriorating security conditions in Baghdad and Bush's promise to redeploy U.S. forces there means that "the Pentagon's plan to withdraw 30,000 troops from Iraq this year is implausible," said Mehdi Noorbaksh, an associate professor of international affairs at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, in Harrisburg, Pa.
The 172nd Brigade's 120-day extension is the second time that soldiers and Marines have been notified that they'd remain in Iraq beyond their original redeployment date.
In December 2004, more than 12,000 soldiers and Marines from Germany, Hawaii, Fort Hood and Okinawa were told that they'd stay for two additional months in order to provide increased security for Iraq's first round of parliamentary elections in January 2005.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.