When George W. Bush announced his plan to send more troops to Iraq, he said that it would help "hasten the day our troops begin coming home."
It was a nice idea, anyway.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates just announced that the Pentagon is extending the tours of duty for all active-duty Army units in Iraq and Afghanistan from 12 to 15 months. Gates said that the change is necessary in order to ensure that active-duty Army units get 12 months at home between deployments. He said that the change will apply to Army units already in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as to units that may be sent there in the future.
Gates called the move a "difficult but necessary interim step" and acknowledged that it will create an additional strain on soldiers and their families. Even so, he tried to spin it as best as he could. Soldiers will get an extra $1,000, on top of their regular pay, for each month they're extended. And they're sure, this time, to get 12 months at home before they're sent to the war zone again. "This 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," he said.
Gates tried to put some distance between the extensions of duty and the president's "surge" -- he said the problem of too-short turnarounds predated Bush's decision to escalate the war -- but he didn't have much success.
With the longer tours of duty in effect, Gates said that the military can maintain the heightened troop levels in Iraq for at least another year. Isn't that a little longer than the Bush administration and the Pentagon were suggesting not so long ago? It is. George Casey said in January that the "surging" troops might start heading home late this summer. A reporter asked Gates today if it's now "safe to say" that "the surge, whenever it's going to end, is going to last longer than August." The secretary's response: "I don't think anybody's in a position to answer that question now."