Thursday, March 29, 2007

Increase May Mean Longer Army Tours


Sustaining the U.S. troop increase in Iraq beyond this summer will not be possible without keeping some Army combat brigades in the war zone for up to 16 months -- much longer than the standard year-long tour, a top U.S. general in charge of the military's rotation plans said yesterday.

Air Force Gen. Lance Smith, head of U.S. Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, also said that if the increase of more than 28,000 combat and support troops continues until February, there is a "high probability" that some Army units would have less than a year at home between combat rotations, further compressing the limited time to train and reconnect with families.

"It will be very difficult" to sustain the increase past the summer, Smith told defense reporters. "The challenges are really in trying to allow a unit to have enough time at home to train, reset and reinvigorate themselves, and to not have to extend them too long in Iraq beyond the one year boots on the ground."

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said this month that he is looking at the possibility of continuing the increase beyond the summer to reinforce early progress in Baghdad. Some U.S. commanders there say they think it will be necessary to keep troop levels elevated at least until February, while others are warning their troops to be prepared to stay in the country for up to 18 months. So far, the longest that a combat brigade has been extended in Iraq for the increase is four months, in the case of the Minnesota National Guard's 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 34th Infantry Division.

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