WASHINGTON – Elements of the 3rd Infantry Division (search), who were told by their commanding general that they would be coming home next month and September, will now be held indefinitely in Iraq.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee (search) last week that almost all of the 3rd -- which led the coalition rush from the Kuwait border to Baghdad -- would be home by September.
The 3rd Infantry Division deployed 16,500 troops to Iraq and suffered 36 deaths -- more than any other unit in the war -- and some of its troops have been in the region since September.
Maj. Gen. Buford C. Blount III, the division's commander, said last week he hoped the division's 1st and 2nd Brigade Combat Teams of roughly 9,000 soldiers could return home to Fort Stewart in Georgia within the next six weeks.
But the timing of homecomings for those soldiers, as well as the division's 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, is now indefinite.
The units have been ordered to stay "due to the uncertainty of the situation in Iraq and the recent increase in attacks on the coalition forces," Blount said in an e-mail message to Army spouses that was obtained by The Associated Press.
The news upset family members.
"Don't do that to us. Don't pull on our heartstrings that way," said Julie Galloway, whose husband, Sgt. Michael Galloway, deployed in November.
It's the second time 3rd Infantry soldiers have seen the Army back off from a tentative return date. After President Bush declared the heavy fighting over May 1, many families were told to prepare for homecomings in June.
Several thousand 3rd Infantry troops, including the 3rd Brigade Combat Team based at Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga., began returning last week.
Their homecomings are not affected, and "the intent is that the remainder of the division will redeploy to the United States by the fall," Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita said.
Defense officials say the holdup is based primarily on the timeline for deployment of foreign forces -- including soldiers from Poland -- to replace the U.S. combat units. The timeline is not working out as some had hoped, and there are training and transportation issues standing in the way of a quick deployment of Polish troops.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Bret Baier is the Chief Political Anchor of Fox News Channel, and the Anchor & Executive Editor of "Special Report with Bret Baier.” His book, "Three Days in January: Dwight Eisenhower’s Final Mission," (William Morrow) is on sale now.