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Shorter Iraq Tours Aim to Ease Strain on Troops

President Bush supported Gen. David Petraeus' call to halt future troop drawdowns in Iraq Thursday but also announced that the Army will return to 12-month deployments to help ease the burden on troops. Military experts debate the impact on the U.S. military and its capabilities.

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    Shorter tours for U.S. soldiers on their way to Iraq. We start with some background from NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman.


    As President Bush announced his support today for keeping a large U.S. force in Iraq for the indefinite future, he also took steps to limit the time spent there by American soldiers.

    The president said he wanted to make combat tours more predictable.

    GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: To ease the burden on our troops and their families, I have directed the secretary of defense to reduce deployment lengths from 15 months to 12 months for all active Army soldiers deploying to the Central Command area of operations.


    The new deployment limits take effect only for soldiers arriving in Iraq August 1st and beyond. Soldiers already there will stay the full 15 months. Tours of duty for Marines already are less than a year.

    And Mr. Bush said he will follow the recommendations of Iraq commander General David Petraeus, as outlined in his testimony to Congress this week. He urged keeping the Iraq force at approximately 140,000, the level before the surge began last year.

    Democrats fired back at the president's plan to maintain such a large force. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke to reporters minutes after the president's address.

    SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), Senate Majority Leader: The president still doesn't understand that America's limited resources cannot support this endless war that he's gotten us involved in. His announcement, while some look to as a great victory, is, I say, two steps backwards and one step forward.


    The length of tours in Iraq is among the troop strength issues that have divided the military's top brass in recent months.

    On April 1st, General Richard Cody, the Army's vice chief of staff, warned the Senate Armed Services Committee something had to change. He said, "Our Army is out of balance. The current demand for forces in Iraq and Afghanistan exceeds our sustainable supply of soldiers, of units, and equipment, and limits our ability to provide ready forces for other contingencies. Our readiness, quite frankly, is being consumed as fast as we can build it."

    And on ABC's "Good Morning America" today, former secretary of state and Joint Chiefs chairman General Colin Powell weighed in on the challenges facing the next president.

    COLIN POWELL, Former U.S. Secretary of State: Whichever one of them becomes president on January 21st of 2009, they will face a military force, a United States military force that cannot sustain, continue to sustain 140,000 people deployed in Iraq and the 20,000-odd or 25,000 people we have deployed in Afghanistan and our other deployments.

    They will have to continue to draw down at some pace. None of them are going to have the flexibility of just saying, "We're out of here, turn off the switch, turn off the lights, we're leaving." They will have a situation before them. The United States Armed Forces are very, very stretched.


    This afternoon, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee he had abandoned hopes he could reduce the U.S. troop level in Iraq to 100,000 by the end of this year.

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