Vol. 4 Num 59 Fri. July 25, 2003  

Pentagon announces major US troop rotations in Iraq

The Pentagon, recognising the pressures on troops who are now serving in Iraq as peacekeepers after fighting a war, announced Wednesday a major program of troop rotations.

The program unveils plans for troop rotations stretching forward to April 2004.

The Pentagon will replace weary military personnel in Iraq with fresh American and international troops in the coming months, with most US soldiers facing yearlong deployments.

The long-awaited troop-rotation plan for the postwar stabilization force in Iraq features the first-ever deployment of a new Army brigade built around the high-tech "Stryker" armored vehicle, and also calls for activating thousands more Army National Guard soldiers.

The Army's 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized) will be sent home in September and replaced by elements of the 82nd Airborne Division, acting Army Chief of Staff Gen. Jack Keane told a Pentagon briefing.

The 3rd Infantry Division spearheaded the invasion of Iraq, was the first unit to enter Baghdad and now shoulders a heavy burden in the postwar effort. Forty-one US troops have been killed in hostile fire in Iraq since May 1, when President Bush declared major combat operations over.

The Stryker Brigade, which has undergone field trials but has not seen action, is due to deploy to Iraq in October, replacing the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, Keane said.

"We have put them through their paces and they are ready to go," Keane said.

The brigade, based at Fort Lewis, Washington, is built around new class of light armored vehicles. The "Stryker" is a speedy, wheeled armored vehicle that combines firepower and agility, with reduced support requirements, according to the Army.

The Pentagon has been under pressure to produce a firm plan for getting fresh troops to Iraq.

Since May 1, US troops have faced regular attacks from a resistance described as growing more organized and sophisticated. Some 3rd Infantry Division soldiers have complained about the uncertainty of when they will return home.

The 1.4 million-member US military has been stretched since the September 2001 attacks on America by deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq along with commitments to what Bush calls the US war on terrorism.

There are 144,000 US troops in Iraq, including 133,300 Army soldiers, and another 12,400 from Britain and other countries.

"The force is stressing hard to meet its challenges. Is it over-stressed? Can it not meet its challenges? We don't have any indication of that at this point," said Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, vice director for operations for the military's Joint Staff.

Iraqis look inside the burned out vehicle in which two Iraqis died after US troops opened fire on them when they refused to stop at a military checkpoint in Baghdad on Thursday. The car burst into flames but it was not clear if the intense fire by US troops was the result of the ignition of the gasoline or of explosives carried inside the car. Photo: AFP