Opinion

National Guard to take place of some U.S. troops in Iraq

WASHINGTON—U.S. Army leaders are preparing to announce as early as Wednesday a plan to start relieving exhausted troops in Iraq with thousands of soldiers from U.S.-based units and an additional 10,000 National Guardsmen who will be called to active duty.

The deployments will be part of a detailed, two-year plan to make certain that units in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries where the United States has peacekeeping forces are rotated home after one year.

Military informants told Knight Ridder that Acting Army Chief of Staff Gen. John Keane will designate both active-duty and Army National Guard units to be placed on the list to deploy to Iraq. The informants spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The plan will require the call-up of two specially trained "enhanced brigades" of the Army National Guard for one-year tours in Iraq, in addition to three active-duty brigades also destined for Iraq as replacements. The 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas, will play a key part in Keane's rotation and assignment plans.

The rotation would be designed so that units in Iraq would know who is destined to replace them and, more importantly, when.

There are already more than 200,000 National Guard and reserve troops of all services on active duty out of a total part-time force of 900,000. These fresh call-ups of two 5,000-man brigades could put additional pressures on the National Guard, which is under increasing strain from longer and more frequent tours of active service.

The three active-duty brigades likely to be tapped for Iraq duty this year are a brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., a new experimental Stryker armored vehicle-equipped brigade of the 2nd Division based at Fort Lewis, Wash., and a brigade of the 1st Armored Division based at Fort Riley, Kan.

The scramble to find replacement units for Iraq duty is stark evidence of how thin the 480,000-strong American Army is stretched.

Of its 33 active-duty brigades, 21 are deployed overseas: 16 in Iraq, two in Afghanistan, two in South Korea and one in Bosnia. All but three of the rest either are preparing for one of those missions, recovering and retraining after one of those missions, or held in reserve.

In addition to units tapped for Iraq assignments, a brigade of the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y., is rotating to Afghanistan shortly to replace a brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division, and a brigade of the 25th Infantry Division based at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, usually reserved for duty in the Pacific Theater, is likely to serve a tour in Afghanistan at year's end.

The military informants said Keane's announcements would be detailed and were intended to provide the forces that Gen. John Abizaid of the U.S. Central Command needs to continue progress toward reconstruction in Iraq. They also will buy "time for building up the coalition forces and standing up the Iraqi police and army," one military official said. "We have a two-year window to fix Iraq. This plan addresses that reality."

Military officials said they hoped to build the present 19,000-strong foreign coalition force to three divisions, or about 40,000 troops, by the end of the year.

Keane had suggested that activated National Guard brigades get as much as 120 days of intensive training before they deployed in Iraq, the informant said.

National Guard commanders responded that many of the enhanced infantry and mechanized brigades recently completed training rotations at the National Training Center (for armor units) at Fort Irwin, Calif., or the Joint Readiness Training Center (for infantry) at Fort Polk, La. They said these units might require as little as one month to get ready to go.

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