WASHINGTON—The Pentagon announced Friday that elements of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division will return to Iraq early next year, the first time that a U.S. military unit has been alerted for a third yearlong combat tour in the war.
Some Marines and soldiers, particularly airborne and special operations forces, have served more than three tours of duty in Iraq, but they've generally been for shorter periods than the one-year deployments that most big Army ground units serve.
Soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division's headquarters, based at Fort Stewart, Ga., and the 3rd Brigade, based at Fort Benning, Ga., are among the 57,000 soldiers whom the Pentagon notified for deployment to Iraq starting early next year.
Approximately 20,000 of those troops will come from Army units based in Georgia, Kansas, Washington, North Carolina and Italy. Those units include:
_4th Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kan.
_4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, Fort Lewis, Wash.
_1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.
_173rd Airborne Brigade, Vicenza, Italy.
An additional 27,000 active-duty and 10,000 reserve soldiers from smaller combat and service support units have been informed that they'll also deploy. The Pentagon didn't identify the smaller units.
The Pentagon also said that 1,500 troops from South Carolina's 218th Combat Brigade Team will be sent to Afghanistan in early 2007. In addition, 6,200 active-duty troops and 600 reservists in smaller units will be deployed to Afghanistan.
With the war in Iraq now entering its fourth year, Friday's announcement illustrated how pressed the Army is to keep providing enough troops for combat duty.
The Army has a plan to ensure that active-duty soldiers spend at least one year at home between combat tours and that National Guard and reserve troops spend no more than one year out of every five on deployment. But the Army has had difficulty meeting those criteria. Many soldiers with the 3rd Infantry Division returned home from their second combat tour in Iraq only in early 2006.
The announcement also marks the second combat tour for other units, including the 173rd Airborne Brigade, which served in northern Iraq in 2003. And though this deployment will be the first for the 1st Infantry Division's new 4th Brigade, its 1st Brigade is already serving its second tour in Iraq.
This will be the first combat deployment for the 2nd Infantry Division's new 4th Brigade, a Stryker combat team that was formed last January.
This summer, the Pentagon had to extend the deployment of the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team by four months in part to ensure that the 3rd Infantry Division's soldiers spent at least a year at home. About 3,500 soldiers with the division's 1st Brigade were alerted in July to stand by for possible deployment orders by the end of this year.
It's unclear whether those troops, based at Fort Stewart, Ga., will also be deployed in 2007. The Pentagon rarely discusses deployment plans before they're official.
There are 141,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and 20,000 in Afghanistan. The rotation plan announced Friday is likely to increase the number of troops in Iraq temporarily, with units overlapping as some go into the country and others come out.
It also means that 168,000 U.S. troops have now been notified that they'll deploy to Iraq in 2007. The Pentagon notified 111,000 troops in two separate announcements earlier this year that they'd deploy to the war zone.
With the Democrats preparing to take charge of Congress in January, the Bush administration is under increasing pressure to change course in Iraq. With the security situation deteriorating and sectarian violence worsening, some lawmakers, including Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, want to begin withdrawing forces.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who'll be the ranking Republican on the armed services committee, has called for sending more soldiers.
U.S. military leaders are recommending against troop withdrawals, saying the security situation remains too unstable. Gen. John Abizaid, the chief of U.S. Central Command, told Congress earlier this week that a modest increase of 20,000 troops might improve Iraq's security temporarily, but he added that the Army and Marines don't have enough forces available to sustain that level for more than a few months.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.