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Monday, August 14, 2006

Iraq: U.S. SENDING 300 NEWLY RETURNED TROOPS BACK TO IRAQ

About 300 U.S. soldiers who just weeks ago returned home to Alaska after a year in Iraq are being ordered back to help bolster security in Baghdad, the U.S. Army said on Monday.

REUTERS
By: William Dunham
August 14, 2006

The soldiers are part of the 3,900-strong 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team from Fort Wainwright in Alaska. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on July 27 ordered the unit to remain in Iraq for up to four months past its scheduled departure.

The order provoked anger and disappointment among some of the soldiers' families in Alaska. It also made it clear that any significant reduction in the 135,000-strong U.S. force in Iraq was unlikely in the immediate future.

The brigade was so far along in the process of flowing out of Iraq after its yearlong tour that 380 soldiers had returned home to Alaska and 300 had arrived in Kuiwait en route home, the Army said.

All of the brigade's soldiers who had reached Kuwait were sent back to Iraq, the Army said. And now, 300 of the 380 who made it to Alaska will be sent back to Iraq within the next couple of weeks, said Paul Boyce, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon.

Those 300, mainly infantry soldiers, are needed in Iraq "to maintain the cohesiveness of that unit as much as possible," Boyce said. Most of these soldiers returned to Alaska three weeks ago but some have been back for as long as five weeks, Boyce said.

Pentagon policy is for Army units to serve 12-month tours in Iraq and Marine Corps units to serve seven-month tours. Army soldiers kept longer than one year in Iraq get an extra $1,000 in pay per month, the Army said.

The 172nd had operated primarily in the Mosul area in relatively calm northern Iraq, but is being shifted into Baghdad, the site of unrelenting violence despite attempts at a security crackdown by U.S. and Iraqi government forces.

The brigade is now due to return to Alaska starting in late November through early January, officials said.

After some troops and families complained earlier in the war about lack of predictability in the length of tours in Iraq, the Pentagon instituted the rules on deployment duration. This was intended to reduce emotional stress for troops serving in a hostile and unpredictable environment.

Lt. Col. Wayne Shanks, an Army spokesman, said military leaders in Alaska are working with soldiers and their families to address hardships brought about by the extended duty.

The Army said the brigade has not received any assurances it will not be extended even further, but said Rumsfeld would have to approve any such move.

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