The long tour of duty just got longer

Published December 1, 2004 11:31PM (EST)

The Pentagon announced today that it's bolstering U.S. troop strength in Iraq in order to accomplish the mission of securing the country for elections. From the Times:

"American forces in Iraq will be expanded by about 12,000 troops to provide better security as the Jan. 30 elections approach, military officials said today. There had been reports in recent weeks that troop strength might be increased by more than 6,000, but today's announcement almost doubled that figure.

"The increase, which will raise American troop strength in Iraq to about 150,000 -- the highest level since the war began in March 2003 -- will be accomplished by extending the combat tours of about 10,400 troops already in Iraq and sending an additional 1,500 soldiers to Iraq from their stateside posts.

"The tour of the First Cavalry Division's Second Brigade, whose home base is Fort Hood, Tex., is being extended for the second time. They had expected to go home in November but were told in October that they would remain in Iraq until the elections. Now, they are to stay in Iraq until March. The 25th Infantry Division's Second Brigade was to have returned to its home bases in Hawaii in January; now it will stay in Iraq until early March. The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit was to have returned to its bases in Okinawa, Hawaii and Japan in January; it will now stay in Iraq until mid-March. And the 160 members of the Army's 66th Transportation Company, who were to have returned to their base in Germany in early January, will stay in Iraq an extra two months."

Curiously, the issue of beefing up troop strength and extending tours of duty didn't seem to play too loudly right before Nov. 2. In September, there had been some talk of a temporary increase of troops to help secure the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq -- but by mid-October, with the U.S. presidential election just around the corner, the main storyline out of the Pentagon seemed to shift to shortening tours of duty.

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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