Combat tour of 4,000 Army soldiers in Iraq is extended

September 26, 2006|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- In the latest sign of stress from growing violence in Iraq, the Pentagon said yesterday that it has extended the combat tour of 4,000 Army soldiers, the second time in as many months that an Army brigade has seen its year-long deployment lengthened.

The 1st Brigade of the 1st Armored Division, which is assigned to Ramadi, the capital of volatile Anbar province, will remain in Iraq an additional 46 days, defense officials said. Originally scheduled to leave Iraq in January, the brigade will now return to its home base in Germany in late February.

Coming soon after this summer's announcement that an Alaska-based brigade would have its tour prolonged, analysts said the extension of the 1st Brigade was the latest sign that the military was having a difficult time sustaining the current force level in Iraq of about 145,000 troops.

"It does tell you the Army is under terrible strain," said Cindy Williams, a defense analyst with the security studies program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Every year we hear troop cutbacks in Iraq are just over the horizon. If they could cut back to 60,000, it could be sustained. But this level cannot."

The 1st Brigade has been trying to pacify Ramadi, where Sunni fighters opposed to the Shiite-dominated central government have squared off against both U.S. and Iraqi security forces.

Also yesterday, the Pentagon announced that it would speed up the scheduled deployment of another brigade to relieve the Alaska unit, the 172nd Stryker Brigade. The 4th Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division, originally scheduled to deploy in late October, will now leave for Iraq 30 days earlier.

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