Some U.S. Troop Deployments Extended in Iraq
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at a press conference to announce the decision said, ”We regret having to extend those individuals.”
“What they’re doing is important. It’s noble work, and in the end it will be successful.”
Approximately 14,500 soldiers of the 1st Armored Division, about 3,200 support troops and 2,800 soldiers of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment from Fort Polk, La., have been told that they will remain in Iraq for another three months.
The Army had previously promised soldiers and their families that assignments in Iraq would not exceed one year.
An additional 3,000 support soldiers — many from the National Guard or Reserves based in Kuwait — will be extended beyond one year, according to military officials.
The announcement comes a week after Rumsfeld said he would approve Iraq tour extensions if commanders believed it was necessary.
About 137,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq now, and that number was supposed to have dropped to 115,000 by May. But Rumsfeld said Gen. John Abizaid, the overall commander of the Iraq war, wants to keep the force level at about 135,000 troops.
Rumsfeld said if Abizaid decides he needs to maintain that level beyond the three-month extension, the Pentagon will send fresh forces from the United States or elsewhere.
In a Baghdad briefing Thursday morning, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers said top military commanders have asked for “more capabilities” to defend supply lines, which have been targeted by gunmen in and around the so-called Sunni Triangle north and west of the capital.
The announcement was met with disappointment, but resignation. At Fort Polk, the home of the 2nd Armored Cavalry, regiment commander Col. Bradley May said, “We are being called to end the fight against Muqtada Sadr’s Mahdi Army and we will,” according to the Associated Press.
April has been the deadliest month since the war began, with the casualty count at 87 U.S. soldiers as of April 15th.