- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Pentagon said yesterday it is sending an Army division headquarters staff of about 1,000 soldiers to Baghdad three months ahead of schedule, a move intended to improve the Army’s ability to command and control the thousands of extra combat troops that President Bush has ordered to Iraq.

The 3rd Infantry Division headquarters staff will deploy from Fort Stewart, Ga., next month — about three months earlier than planned, according to an Army statement. It said family members have been notified of the change.

It is the 3rd Infantry’s third deployment to Iraq. The first was during the initial invasion in 2003.

The decision to send them early is related to Bush’s decision to deploy an extra five Army brigades — about 17,500 soldiers — to Baghdad as part of the president’s new approach to stabilizing the country amid rising sectarian violence.

There currently is just one Army division headquarters staff in Baghdad — the 1st Cavalry Division. That unit’s commander, Maj. Gen. Joseph Fil, Jr., told Pentagon reporters by video teleconference from Baghdad that he saw no need for another division headquarters staff, but he said the matter was being studied.

“I’ve told my bosses that it’s just fine, that we do not have a command-and-control issue right now,” he said.

Gen. Fil also said he has requested an unspecified number of extra attack helicopters and combat engineers, and that U.S. and U.S.-trained Iraqi army troops face a determined and ruthless foe in the capital region.

“They have a thirst for blood like I have never seen anywhere before,” Gen. Fil said.

A division headquarters normally would command no more than about five brigades. Gen. Fil’s division currently has eight ground combat brigades operating with it, including a brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division, which was the first of the five extra brigades under Mr. Bush’s plan to arrive in Baghdad. It got there in January.

The next to arrive, the 4th Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, from Fort Riley, Kan., is now in Kuwait conducting its final training before heading to Baghdad later this month. The three other brigades — including two from the 3rd Infantry Division — are scheduled to go between March and May.

Since Mr. Bush’s announcement of the troop buildup on Jan. 10, when he said 17,500 more soldiers would go to Baghdad and about 4,000 more Marines would go to western Anbar province, there has been controversy over the actual size of the buildup.

The Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan arm of Congress, said recently that the Pentagon might need to send 15,000 to 28,000 combat support and combat service support troops to Iraq, in addition to the 21,500 combat troops. But Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has said that estimate grossly exaggerates the need for support forces.

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