WASHINGTON — The Defense Department announced Monday that it will send seven combat brigades to Iraq by the end of the year, suggesting that the Pentagon is planning to maintain its troop levels in Iraq through next year.
The military also alerted four National Guard Army brigades, or roughly 14,000 troops, to prepare for deployments to Iraq beginning next spring. A fifth National Guard brigade, Vermont's 86th Brigade Combat Team, is scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan in the spring of 2010, the Pentagon announced.
Those National Guard brigades and the roughly 25,000 active-duty soldiers will replace brigades finishing their deployments in Iraq. In addition, the military said a headquarters division, the 25th Division, will deploy this fall.
The deployments, which would indicate a plan to keep 15 combat brigades, or roughly 140,000 troops, in Iraq through 2009, don't mean that there won't be a reduction in troops before then, said Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman.
Instead, the Pentagon could choose to withdraw troops already in Iraq, he said. Any drawdown would not affect the seven brigades deploying this fall, said Whitman.
During testimony last month before Congress, Army Gen. David Petraeus, the top military commander in Iraq, called for a 45-day pause in the withdrawal of U.S. troops there after five so-called "surge" combat brigades leave to assess the security situation. After the pause, Petraeus said, he will determine whether the U.S. military can withdraw more brigades.
Many Pentagon officials hope to get at least one more brigade out of Iraq by the end of the year, saying sustained deployments are straining an already stressed Army.
Currently, there are 17 brigades, or roughly 155,000 troops, in Iraq.
The deploying brigades will be among the first to resume serving 12-month deployments. To support the surge strategy, the U.S. military had extended deployments to 15 months.
The active-duty brigades to be deployed are: 2nd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, from Fort Carson, Colo.; 3rd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, from Schofield Barracks, Hawaii; 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, from Fort Riley, Kan.; 3rd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, from Fort Bragg, N.C.; 172nd Infantry Brigade from Schweinfurt, Germany; 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, from Fort Hood, Texas; and the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, from Fort Wainwright, Alaska.
The National Guard brigades will have "a secure force mission," primarily securing bases and convoys, Whitman said. Those units are: 72nd Brigade Combat Team, Texas National Guard; 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 28th Infantry Division, Pennsylvania National Guard; 256th Brigade Combat Team, Louisiana National Guard; and the 278th Brigade Combat Team, Tennessee National Guard.