WASHINGTON – Six Army brigades, a National Guard unit and three military headquarters have been ordered to Iraq next summer in a move that would allow the U.S. to keep the number of troops largely steady there through much of next year.
The planned deployments involve about 26,000 troops and would maintain 14 combat brigades in Iraq from about February to early fall. But the decisions do not rule out potential changes as military leaders assess the security there and eye more troop withdrawals.
Even as violence in Iraq has plunged in the past year, cautious Pentagon leaders have resisted insistent public and congressional calls for more rapid and hefty troop pullouts. Instead, top commanders insist the security situation remains fragile, and the improvements reversible.
That assessment was reflected in a report sent to Congress Tuesday in which the Pentagon expressed concern in the turnover to Iraqi government control — beginning Wednesday — of tens of thousands of Sunni fighters who turned against Al Qaeda with U.S. support. About 100,000 of the fighters — many former insurgents — are now on the U.S. payroll.
The Shiite-led government has pledged to take responsibility for about half of these fighters, known as Sons of Iraq, by moving them either into the ranks of government security forces or to other government jobs.
"The slow pace of transition is a concern," the Pentagon report said.
The fear, not expressed in explicit terms in the Pentagon's quarterly report to Congress on developments in Iraq, is that the Baghdad government will move too slowly to integrate the Sunnis into legitimate employment because it views them as Sunni militiamen, and that this will lead some to rejoin the insurgency.
President Bush announced earlier this month that the U.S. will withdraw about 8,000 U.S. troops from Iraq by February, with about half leaving before the end of 2008. The number of combat brigades in Iraq will remain at the current 15 through January, when one will leave and not be replaced. Pentagon officials have suggested more reductions could be made by summer.
There are now about 152,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.
The Iraq drawdown will allow troops to be diverted to Afghanistan, where violence has escalated and commanders say they need more than 10,000 more troops to train Afghans and fight militants.
Six of the 10 units slated to head to Iraq next year are from Washington or North Carolina, with others from Texas, Kansas and Wyoming. It would mark the first time the Army's 1st Corps headquarters out of Fort Lewis, Wash., has deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan.
The headquarters unit is commanded by Lt. Gen. Charles Jacoby, who came to prominence several years ago as the author of a report examining the treatment of detainees in Afghanistan.
He found no widespread mistreatment, but concluded there was a lack of knowledge and clear standards regarding the detention and interrogation of detainees that required changes in procedures.
The other units ordered to deploy are:
—1st Cavalry Division headquarters, Ft. Hood, Texas.
—2nd Marine Expeditionary Force headquarters, Camp Lejeune, N.C.
—4th Brigade, 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss, Texas
—4th Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.
—5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, Fort Lewis, Wash.
—1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.
—3rd Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, Fort Lewis, Wash.
—4th Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kan.
—115th Fires Brigade, a National Guard artillery unit from Cheyenne, Wyo.