WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has approved a plan for rotating new soldiers into Iraq, a move that will relieve some who have been serving there for nearly a year, officials said Wednesday.
According to a memo on the Army plan, obtained by The Associated Press, the 3rd Infantry Division (search) will come home in September, the 101st Airborne Division (search) in February and March, the 4th Infantry Division (search) next April and the 1st Armored Division (search) next May.
The subject of replacement troops has been a sensitive issue because some soldiers with the 3rd Infantry Division have been in the region since last fall.
Some of them -- and their families -- have complained bitterly about delays in their homecoming.
"We owe it to our soldiers and their families to provide them with timely notifications for deployments and predictability of the length of those deployments," said an Army memo on the plan sent to Congress.
Other details of the plan are:
--The 3rd Infantry Division will be replaced by the 82nd Airborne Division in September.
-- The 4th Infantry Division will be replaced by 1st Infantry Division in April.
-- The 1st Armored Division will be replaced by elements of the 1st Cavalry Divisions in May.
-- The 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment will be replaced by elements of the 2nd Infantry Division in October.
-- The 101st Airborne Division will come out in February and March and be replaced by international coalition forces.
Officials said Tuesday that the plan was to keep the number of Americans in Iraq steady at about 145,000. That could change depending on how many international troops arrive, how well the expanded coalition effort works and how security develops in the country.
The 3rd Infantry Division, along with the Marines, led the charge that toppled Baghdad on April 9.
"I'm glad to hear that the men and women of the 3rd Infantry Division will be returning home soon," said Rep. Jim Marshall, D-Ga. said Wednesday. "They fought bravely for their country, played a critical role in defeating Saddam Hussein's regime, and have exceeded all expectations. They have truly earned their homecoming."
The vast majority of the Air Force and Navy units that fought in the war left the area weeks ago.
Stretched thin by other commitments around the world, the Pentagon has been hard-pressed to find ground force replacements, either American or foreign. The top commander in Iraq, Gen. John Abizaid, has said it was important to maintain the current level of troops, which include about 13,000 from Britain and other countries.