3,700 Troops' Stay In Iraq Is Extended

By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 28, 2006

Defense Department officials announced yesterday that the Army's 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, which has been deployed in Mosul since last summer, will be extended for as long as 120 days to boost security in Baghdad.

The Alaska-based 172nd has been in northern Iraq, which has been relatively peaceful, compared with the most restive areas of the country. But the extension means that about 3,700 troops who had been planning to return home over the next two weeks probably will remain for at least the next six weeks and possibly as long as four months, this time in the most violent area of the country, officials said.

About 600 troops with the 172nd have already returned home, and as many as three dozen service members -- mostly commissioned officers and senior noncommissioned officers -- could be recalled to the war from the United States in coming days, two defense officials said.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld approved Gen. George W. Casey Jr.'s extension request yesterday, officials said. Rumsfeld must sign off on deployments that last longer than a year.

The extension boosts troop levels temporarily in Baghdad without sacrificing military power elsewhere in the country. The 3rd Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division, also a Stryker brigade, is already in Iraq taking the 172nd's place. Another benefit commanders see is that this option brings a brigade with a year of combat experience into Baghdad.

President Bush this week said that additional troops were needed to fight the "terrible" violence that has erupted in Iraq.

"This unit was identified because of the importance of the mission, and this is the best alternative," said one U.S. military official familiar with the decision.

Strykers are among the most agile Army ground vehicles in Iraq, but commanders have not yet decided whether the 172nd will roll through Baghdad's streets with the heavily armored vehicles that look like small tanks, or whether the brigade will park them and behave more like traditional infantry units.

The addition of the 172nd and four military police companies will boost the U.S. presence in Baghdad by more than 4,000 and will be matched with 4,000 or more Iraqi troops.

The move will temporarily push U.S. troop levels in Iraq above 130,000 for at least the next few months and decreases the chances that the United States will be able to significantly reduce the number of forces in Iraq by the end of the year.

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