- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Troop deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan will be extended from 12 to 15 months for active-duty soldiers, the Pentagon announced yesterday.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters that the new policy will give combat troops 12 months off after the extended deployment. The policy is aimed at providing “better clarity, predictability and sustainability in how we deploy active-duty Army forces,” he said.

“This policy is a difficult but necessary interim step,” Mr. Gates said. “In the end, I believe this new approach will allow the Army to better support the war effort while providing a more predictable and dependable deployment schedule for our soldiers and their families.”

Marine Corps and National Guard and Reserve troop deployments will continue to be less than 15 months. A normal Marine Corps deployment is seven months, and normal Guard and Reserve tours are 12 months.

The new policy highlights the strain on U.S. ground forces in fighting the global war on terrorism, especially in the high-combat areas of Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I strongly believe that we owe our troops as much advanced notice as possible and clarity on what they and their families can expect,” Mr. Gates said. “In other words, predictability.”

Soldiers from the Army’s Stryker Brigade told The Washington Times this week that many of them were worried about not knowing when they will be sent home.

The policy appears to have been based on a request from Army Gen. David Petraeus, the commander in Iraq, to extend combat tours by up to three months for about 15,000 troops serving in Iraq.

Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the longer deployments will be difficult for both the troops and their families but that they are needed.

Gen. Pace said the new policy “goes a long way toward making sure that we will have the proper amount of time to train them; that they will have time with their families; that they will have a predictable life; that they can sit there around the dinner table and know that on calendar month so and so, Daddy’s going to leave, and on calendar month so and so, Mommy’s going to come home, and those kinds of things, which add to quality of life.”

Mr. Gates said the Army is not broken but strained.

“I think that what this recognizes … is that our forces are stretched. There’s no question about that,” he said. However, Mr. Gates said Army recruitment and retention levels remain “strong.”

About 145,000 U.S. troops are deployed in Iraq, and the number could reach 160,000 in the next several months as more forces are sent to Baghdad as part of a surge aimed at stabilizing the Iraqi capital.

Mr. Gates said yesterday’s announcement was made simultaneously with notification of Army commanders because “some very thoughtless person in this building made the unilateral decision yesterday to deny the Army the opportunity to notify unit commanders, who could then talk to their troops 48 hours before we made a public announcement.”

“And I can’t tell you how angry it makes many of us that one individual would create potentially so much hardship not only for our service men and women, but their families, by letting them read about something like this in the newspapers,” Mr. Gates said.

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