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Guard units could do 2nd tour in Iraq

From the Associated Press

The Pentagon is developing plans that for the first time would send entire National Guard combat brigades back to Iraq for a second tour, the Guard’s top general said in the latest sign of how thinly stretched the military has become.

Smaller Guard units and individual troops have already returned to Iraq for longer periods, and some active duty units have served multiple tours. Brigades generally have about 3,500 troops.

The move -- which could include brigades from North Carolina, Florida, Arkansas and Indiana -- would be the Pentagon’s first large-scale departure from its previous decision not to deploy reserves for more than a total of 24 months in Iraq.

A second tour would probably put some units over that two-year maximum. The planning was described by Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, who commands the Guard, in an Associated Press interview this week.

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In a related move, the Pentagon is preparing to release a list of active units -- and perhaps reserves as well -- scheduled to go to Iraq that would largely maintain the current level of forces there over the next two years, another senior defense official said Thursday. There are about 152,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

That official requested anonymity because the plan has not been made public.

The Pentagon routinely notifies units to prepare for deployment, knowing it is easier to cancel a move overseas than to suddenly make such a large troop movement.

It was not clear whether this week’s resignation of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld would affect deployment plans. President Bush has selected former CIA chief Robert M. Gates, who has criticized U.S. policy in Iraq, to replace Rumsfeld, but he has not yet been confirmed by the Senate.

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