Army Will Not Cut Iraq Combat Tours
The Army has abandoned the possibility of shortening 12-month combat tours in Iraq to six or nine months, its top officer said Tuesday.
The intensity of the insurgency 18 months after the fall of Baghdad, combined with manpower problems from fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, has forced the Army to at least temporarily rule out reducing soldiers’ deployments to nine or even six months, said Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff. The yearlong tours will continue at least through next year, he said.
“We’re at a level of engagement right now worldwide where it’s very, very difficult to reduce the tour length,” Schoomaker said. “We are planning 12 months boots on the ground until the level of effort goes down.”
Another complicating factor is the Army’s plan to create more combat brigades from 10 active divisions. Keeping troops in combat zones for longer periods allows the Army to reorganize more of its stateside units, Schoomaker told reporters.
In June, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld asked the Army to consider shortening combat tours to bring its units closer in line with the Marine Corps, which deploys its units for six or seven months at a time. Army officials responded that while they preferred shorter tours, global deployments and their service’s transformation plans prohibited such a move in the near future.
Accompanied by his deputy, Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Richard A. Cody, Schoomaker told reporters that commanders in Iraq also were concerned that shorter tours would keep U.S. forces from building contacts with Iraqis and gathering intelligence about the insurgency.
“It means that you’re going to have constant handover of contacts with the local populace over there, which is exactly what you don’t want to do in an insurgency,” he said.
The generals said that Army Gen. John P. Abizaid of U.S. Central Command had not asked them to accelerate the deployment of troops scheduled to rotate into Iraq next year, which would bulk up the U.S.-led security force before elections scheduled for January.
The Pentagon’s goal is to have a greater U.S.-led presence to protect international and Iraqi election workers and to provide security at polling stations. Last month, Abizaid announced plans to increase the security force closer to the election, yet said that he hoped Iraqi troops being trained by U.S. forces would provide the boost.
With the training of Iraqi forces going more slowly than planned, officials at the Pentagon believe it is increasingly likely that it will have to retool its rotation plan for next year to accommodate the elections. One possibility would be to send the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, which led the original charge on Baghdad, sooner than its scheduled deployment next year.
Another option to inflate troop levels would be to delay the departure from Iraq of the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division and 1st Infantry Division, deployed in Baghdad and the so-called Sunni Triangle. In April, during uprisings in Shiite Muslim-dominated southern Iraq and in the Sunni city of Fallouja, the Pentagon delayed the departure of the Army’s 1st Armored Division, sending it south to take on fighters loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr.
While both Schoomaker and Cody said that they were prepared to adjust the rotation schedule to accommodate conditions on the ground, officials at the Pentagon said privately that any decision must be made soon to allow for proper preparations.