Opinion

New rotation plans for U.S. troops in Iraq

WASHINGTON—Most U.S. troops now in Iraq will come home over the next year and be replaced by fresh forces, according to a plan outlined Wednesday by Gen. John Keane, the Army's acting chief of staff.

The goal, Keane said, is to give Gen. John Abizaid, the head of U.S. Central Command, which is in charge of military operations in Iraq, everything he needs to secure the country for reconstruction.

Except for two Army National Guard enhanced brigades of 5,000 men each, who will be sent early next spring for a six-month tour, Army units sent to Iraq will serve one-year deployments.

Keane said the Army had 133,500 soldiers in Iraq and another 34,000 stationed in Kuwait to support and supply them. The Army has far and away the largest part of the Iraq force, with foreign coalition troops next at 12,400, followed by the Marines at 8,600, the Navy at 1,550 and the Air Force with 550.

Keane said the first soldiers who had gone into Iraq, the 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized) from Fort Stewart, Ga., would come out in September and would be replaced by the 82nd Airborne from Fort Bragg, N.C., which will send its headquarters unit, one brigade and a brigade task force.

Also leaving in September and October will be what remains of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, based at Camp Pendleton, Calif. The Marines will be replaced by a division from Poland.

The 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized), based at Fort Hood, Texas, will rotate home next March and April. It will be replaced by the 1st Infantry Division, based in Germany, plus an enhanced Army National Guard brigade yet to be named.

The 1st Armor Division, based in Germany, will return to base in the February-April period. The 1st Cavalry Division and an Army National Guard enhanced brigade will replace it.

The 2nd Light Cavalry Brigade, based at Fort Polk, La., will return home in March-April and will be replaced by one brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division from Fort Hood, Texas.

The 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, based at Fort Carson, Colo., will rotate home in March-April and be replaced by the new experimental Stryker Light Armored Vehicle Brigade, based at Fort Lewis, Wash. The Stryker Brigade will arrive in Iraq in October and will have a lengthy overlap with the unit it's replacing.

The 101st Airborne/Air Assault Division, based at Fort Campbell, Ky., will come home in February-March and will be replaced by a "multinational division."

The 2nd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division will return home to Fort Bragg in January and won't be replaced. The 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in northern Italy, will return to its home base next April and also won't be replaced.

Keane was asked whether the experimental Stryker Brigade, recently equipped with a new light armored wheeled fighting vehicle, was ready for the rigors of Iraq combat. "They are ready to go," Keane said.

Some of the units heading for Iraq were the reserve forces for duty in a Korean emergency. Keane said the units that were coming home from Iraq would be available in such an emergency. "They are at the highest state of readiness already," he said.

Keane said that with the exception of prepositioned M1A1 tanks used by the 3rd Division in the strike on Baghdad, which will remain in Kuwait and be reconditioned and repaired, units going to Iraq and coming home would take their own equipment.

Keane was asked whether the Army was being overstressed by constant deployments.

"The Army is working hard. We are at war now, the war on terrorism, and we are stressing to meet the challenge. But we are not overstressed," he said.

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