WASHINGTON — The Army has extended by two months the Iraq tours of about 6,500 soldiers, citing a need for experienced troops through the Iraqi elections scheduled for late January.
About 3,500 soldiers of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, and 3,000 from the 1st Infantry Division headquarters will remain in Iraq two months longer than planned, Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said Saturday.
Whitman said the extensions would result in a net addition of 3,500 troops, since soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division, scheduled to replace the 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry, will arrive as planned.
Replacements for the 3,000 from the 1st Infantry will delay their arrival until after the elections.
The Army said it initially had scheduled 10-month deployments for the units whose tours are being extended, rather than the usual 12-month tours, to stagger the rotation of forces in and out of Iraq this winter and avoid overburdening transportation systems.
A description of the troop extensions posted on the Pentagon's website Saturday mentioned "the troops' frustration" at having their tours extended.
Army Gen. George W. Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, requested the extensions late September, and his immediate superior, Gen. John P. Abizaid, made the decision Oct. 16, the Pentagon said.
"It makes sense to keep experienced soldiers, who know the area and have developed relationships in Iraq, on the ground during the election period," Whitman said. He stressed that the extensions would not exceed the Army's goal of keeping soldiers in Iraq no longer than 12 months.
Roughly 135,000 American troops are in Iraq. Whitman said it was possible that other adjustments would be made to bolster forces before Iraq's elections.