WASHINGTON (AP) — More than 10,000 American soldiers who
were to return this month to home bases in Louisiana and Germany
will have their tour in Iraq extended at least three months to help
combat the surge in anti-occupation violence, defense officials
said yesterday.

From the AP
Sgt. Jeff Hardy of Colorado Springs, Colorado, carries sandbags to a house roof as he and Marines of Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, fortify the area. (AP PHOTO)

The decision, which has not been announced publicly, breaks the
Army’s promise to soldiers and their families that
assignments in Iraq would be limited to 12 months. The affected
soldiers already have been in Iraq for a year.

Welcome-home ceremonies at Fort Polk, La., scheduled for this
month, have been canceled. In Baumholder, Germany, some
soldiers’ families have stopped marking the days off the
calendar.

The top U.S. commander for the Middle East, Gen. John Abizaid,
decided that the increase in violence was so threatening that he
needed to have the extra firepower, officials say.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was fine-tuning the new plan
yesterday; his spokesmen declined to discuss details. They said it
was possible that Rumsfeld would make it public today.

The tour extensions come at a particularly delicate moment. At
least 87 troops have been killed in April, the deadliest month
since they set foot in Iraq in March 2003. The number of wounded
also has skyrocketed.

The advantage of keeping soldiers of the 1st Armored Division
and the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Iraq for an extra three
months — rather than bringing in an equivalent number from
elsewhere — is that these soldiers have unmatched combat
experience in Iraq.

The Army is so stretched by its commitments in Iraq,
Afghanistan, the Balkans and elsewhere that it has few, if any,
forces immediately available to substitute in Iraq for the 1st
Armored or 2nd Armored Cavalry.

Also, these units have been heavily involved in one of the most
important U.S. military missions there: training thousands of Iraqi
security forces. Those Iraqi army and civil defense corps members
are central to the Pentagon’s plan for eventually turning
over military control to the Iraqis and pulling out U.S.
troops.

Abizaid had planned, as part of the current rotation of fresh
forces into Iraq, to reduce the U.S. troop presence from about
135,000 to about 115,000.

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