Pentagon: Delay in unit deployment to Iraq does not signal troop drawdown
WASHINGTON – A Pentagon decision to delay deployment of an Army combat brigade to Iraq hints at growing optimism that conditions there are improving, but officials cautioned Monday that it doesn’t signal the start of a sizable military withdrawal.The Army said the move has little impact, as yet, on plans to send four other combat brigades to Iraq in August and September.But officials also did not rule out decisions in the coming months that could keep some of those units at home, and lead to a substantial reduction of U.S. troops in Iraq just before the November congressional elections.”This is a very narrow decision to hold one brigade from deploying and to give the commanders on the ground additional time to continue their assessments,” said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman. “Obviously there has been a degree of political progress that has been made in the last couple of weeks.”The decision to keep the 3,500 soldiers of the 2nd brigade of the 1st Infantry Division at their home base in Germany was revealed over the weekend and formally announced Monday. The delay will give the Pentagon time to monitor progress by the fledgling Iraqi government and its security forces, and decide whether more troops are needed.In recent weeks, the new Iraqi government has begun to take shape with the selection of top leaders and the appointment of Nouri al-Maliki as prime minister-designate.The brigade was scheduled to take over its duties in Iraq in early July. Whitman said it also is possible the deployment will be rescheduled for later this year.The 3rd brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division, based at Fort Lewis in Washington, is the next unit scheduled to deploy to Iraq in early August. That unit would be followed by the 3rd brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division based at Fort Bragg in North Carolina; the 3rd brigade of the 25th Infantry Division based at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii; and the 2nd brigade of the 10th Mountain Division based at Fort Drum in New York.Currently there are about 132,500 troops in Iraq.”What we have is the beginning of the process (of withdrawal) without the process having been announced,” said Dan Goure, a military analyst with the Virginia-based Lexington Institute. “What you’re seeing here is an attempt to keep expectations low.”Top U.S. commanders and officials have said they expect the U.S. military presence in Iraq to shrink to about 100,000 by the end of the year, and recommendations on troop reductions were expected this spring.Goure said the decision not to announce plans to halt some deployments confirms that the unsettled political situation in Iraq and the continued sectarian violence have been more difficult than the Pentagon initially expected.”It is some recognition that things aren’t as good as they thought it would be,” said Goure. “But at the same time, they are legitimately saying that things are getting better.”The decision to delay the brigade’s deployment also postpones the costly transportation of equipment and supplies, which was set to begin this week. Similarly, any decision to delay or cancel the planned summer deployments would likely be made six to eight weeks in advance, to prevent the unnecessary shipping of equipment to Iraq.Vail, Colorado
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