U.S. Extends Iraq Tour For Another Army Unit

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Pentagon yesterday delayed for six weeks the return home of about 4,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq's volatile Anbar province -- the second extension of U.S. forces in the country in two months -- as the insurgency and rising sectarian violence exert heavier demands on a stretched American ground force.

A brigade of the Army's 1st Armored Division, operating in Anbar's contested capital of Ramadi, has been ordered to stay on for 46 more days. Another brigade -- from the 1st Cavalry Division based at Fort Hood, Tex. -- will depart a month early, in late October, for a year of combat duty in Iraq.

"There's no question but that any time there's a war, the forces of the countries involved are asked to do a great deal," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said when asked about the troop decisions at the Pentagon yesterday.

According to a Pentagon announcement, the shift is necessary to "maintain the current force structure in Iraq into the spring of next year." That confirms an assessment last week by Gen. John P. Abizaid, the senior U.S. commander in the Middle East, that no cuts in the more than 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq are likely before next spring.

It also demonstrates the increasingly tough trade-offs U.S. commanders face between the imperatives of war fighting and the need to retrain and recuperate the taxed Army and Marine Corps.

In this case, commanders had to choose between extending thousands of U.S. troops serving in one of Iraq's deadliest cities -- the 1st Armored Division brigade in Ramadi -- or requiring another combat-hardened unit that has already served two tours in Iraq, a brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division, to return to the desert after less than a year at home. They opted for the former.

"The chief of staff of the Army refuses to compromise on the one-year dwell time," said an Army official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record. The chief of staff is Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, and "dwell time" refers to the amount of time troops have at home between deployments to retrain, repair equipment and reconnect with their families.

"If they didn't do this, the . . . dwell time for 3rd Infantry Division would be 11 months, so that's a no-go," the official said.

Still, the extension prolonged the hardship for the 1st Armored Division soldiers, based in Friedberg, Germany, and their families, who were notified yesterday, the official said. The Pentagon statement acknowledged the "continued contributions" of the soldiers in Ramadi and their families, saying the "extension reflects the continued commitment of the United States to the security of the Iraqi people."

In July, the Pentagon extended the Iraq tour of the 172nd Stryker Brigade, based at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, for about four months.

The Army set a goal in 2003 of allowing active-duty soldiers to spend two years at home for every year overseas. But that aim has proved elusive because of the limited number of active-duty combat brigades available to deploy -- currently 36 -- as well as the continued high troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 20,000 U.S. troops are now serving in Afghanistan, according to Army figures.

Active-duty soldiers today can expect to spend no more than a year at home between deployments, said Lynn Davis, a senior Rand Corp. analyst and lead author of a 2005 report on Army deployments titled "Stretched Thin." The number of Army combat brigades in Iraq and Afghanistan would have to fall by about half -- to 10 -- to achieve the Army's goal of two years at home, she said. In contrast, soldiers in today's armored, mechanized and Stryker brigades, which are most in demand, can expect to be away from home for "a little over 45 percent of their career," she said.

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