Support our mission

WASHINGTON — All active-duty Army units deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan will serve up to 15-month tours instead of the standard 12 months overseas, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced Wednesday.

The move would affect all active-duty soldiers in the U.S. Central Command area, as well as those who deploy there, with the exception of two Army units whose tours in Iraq have already been extended. Army National Guard, Army Reserve, Marines, airmen and sailors would not see their tour lengths changed.

"Without this action we would have had to deploy five brigades earlier than their planned 12 months at home," Gates said. "I believe it is fair to all soldiers that all share the burden equally."

Gates said the move is not connected to the latest "surge" of forces into Iraq, but instead related to the difficulty of insuring that all units receive a full 12 months at home after their overseas tours. He said the new 15-month tours will insure all units will see that full year at home once their deployments are finished.

"Our forces are stretched, there is no question about that," he said.

Currently about 145,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Iraq. Plans call for more than 160,000 when the buildup is complete in early summer.

In addition to the tour extensions, defense officials this week announced that 13,000 National Guard troops were ordered to prepare for possible deployment to Iraq as early as December.

"I realize this decision will ask a lot of our Army troops and their families," he 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 depnedable deployment schedule."

Gates said the soldiers will receive an additional $1,000 for every month they spend in theater. Army officials are scheduled to release additional details on the tour extensions on Thursday.

On Wednesday Iraq’s spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh spoke out against “premature” withdrawal of U.S. troops, saying that would create an opportunity for Iran and the al-Qaida terror network to make inroads in Iraq.

Al-Dabbagh, asked at a news conference at the United States Institute for Peace, a U.S. government-funded research group, about congressional efforts to force a pullout of U.S. combat troops, said, “They should finish the job.”

He said no Iraqi wants U.S. forces to stay a long time, but “there is a job to be done.” With Iraq’s approval he said some troops could be safely withdrawn later this year or early in 2008.

But, he said, “the premature withdrawal of American troops will create a vacuum” and “Iran is a danger and al-Qaida is a danger.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Stripes in 7

around the web

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up