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Military `surge' in Iraq won't include many fresh troops

WASHINGTON—The "surge" of U.S. forces in Iraq that President Bush announced Wednesday night won't involve very many fresh troops. It will be accomplished mostly by holding some forces in place while speeding up the deployment of others already scheduled to be sent, according to U.S. defense officials.

In his televised address, Bush outlined a plan to bolster American forces in Iraq by another 17,500 Army troops and 4,000 Marines. The Army forces, comprising about five combat brigades, will be sent to Baghdad, where they're expected to join in a mostly failed crackdown on sectarian gangs. Those soldiers are to begin arriving next week. The Marines will reinforce U.S. troops in western Iraq's Anbar province, where American soldiers and Marines have been locked in deadly combat against mostly Sunni Muslim insurgents and foreign al-Qaida fighters for almost four years.

On paper, the president's plan appears to be the biggest buildup of U.S. forces in Iraq since Saddam Hussein's regime was swept from power in 2003. But according to defense officials, the "surge" will be pieced together largely by extending the tours of duty of some forces that had been scheduled to leave Iraq and speeding up the deployment of others that were notified late last year that they were slated to go.

In Anbar, two Marine infantry battalions and a Marine Expeditionary Unit will stay in Iraq for two more months as fresh Marines arrive as part of a previously scheduled deployment, said a defense official, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because no formal announcement had been made.

The official declined to identify the three units; those details are supposed to be made public Thursday after a White House news conference by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

But the Marines appear to be part of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, based at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Those 26,000 Marines are in the process of being replaced by about 20,000 Marines from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

A second defense official, who also asked not to be identified, for the same reasons, said the 82nd Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade, which was on standby as a reserve force in Kuwait, was awaiting orders from U.S. Central Command to deploy into Iraq. Those orders would be issued after Thursday's briefing, the official said.

The second official declined to identify the four other Army brigades that are taking part in the surge, since those details will be announced Thursday. But the official said the units had been identified last year as part of the regular rotation of U.S. forces to Iraq this year. The official said that no additional active-duty Army forces or National Guard troops, those not already identified as part of the 2007 rotation, would be called up for the surge.

Instead, the official said, the buildup will be accomplished by holding some forces already deployed to Iraq in place for another 60 to 90 days, while accelerating the deployment of others by two to four weeks.

There are currently about 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. Among those are troops from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, plus the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, 10th Mountain Division, 1st Infantry Division and 3rd Corps.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said the 1st Brigade, 34th Infantry Division, Minnesota National Guard, apparently would stay longer than planned in Iraq.

The 4th Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, based at Fort Riley, Kan.; the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, based at Fort Lewis, Wash.; the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, based at Fort Stewart, Ga.; and the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, based at Fort Benning, Ga., will deploy to Iraq early.

About 57,000 troops from those units were notified in November that they were headed to Iraq in early 2007.

This will be the 3rd Infantry Division's third yearlong deployment to the country since the war began.


(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.