HEIDELBERG, Germany — Army units in Germany and Italy have begun receiving marching orders for the next rotation of forces into Afghanistan, according to a spokesman for Army forces in Europe.

More than 5,500 troops from Europe will deploy into the combat zone beginning in late fall, with most of the forces in place by the end of the winter, said Michael Tolzmann, U.S. Army Europe spokesman.

It’s unclear, however, what U.S.-based units will round out the deployment into Afghanistan.

The rotation marks the first major contingent from Europe embarking for duty in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion almost three years ago.

The Italy-based Southern European Task Force is slated to take over command of the mission in March. The 2,000-strong SETAF, commanded by Brig. Gen. Jason Kamiya, will replace the Hawaii-based 25th Infantry Division which has been on the ground since spring.

With force levels in Afghanistan expected to hold steady at about 17,900 troops, SETAF’s two battalions of paratroops will not be able to do the job alone. Europe-based troops will provide some of the help.

Joining them will be Germany-based AH-64 Apache Longbow and UH-60 Black Hawk crews, as well as a wide variety of intelligence, medical, military police and other support units.

While few if any of the Europe-based units have been to Afghanistan, many are veterans of the war in Iraq. SETAF, for example, jumped into Kurdish-held territory in the north at the beginning of the war there while the 2nd Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, a V Corps Apache unit based in Illesheim, provided deep-strike and close-air support through the invasion from Kuwait. The Illesheim unit returned from Fort Hood, Texas, last month after converting to the updated Longbow version of the Apache.

Troops from the Giebelstadt-based 3rd Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, a Black Hawk unit, learned they will be headed to Afghanistan, barely a year after finishing an extended 13-month tour in Iraq.

The news of another year at war drew resigned sighs from the 3-158 Aviation’s combat veterans. Several said they’re at least relieved they’ll be going someplace different.

“I’d prefer a change in scenery — and a little cooler climate,” said Spc. Brian Ferry, 20, of Rockland, Pa.

To others, though, the change matters little.

“The mission’s the same,” said Spc. Juan Haninger, 23, of Stockton, Calif. “It’s just a different location.”

There is currently the rough equivalent of seven infantry battalions operating in Afghanistan, including three light-infantry battalions from the 25th ID’s Third Brigade, one battalion of Marines, and one battalion from the Virginia Army National Guard.

Meanwhile, one field artillery regiment from the 25th ID is performing a mix of infantry and artillery duties while the division’s cavalry squadron also is performing largely light-infantry duties.

With only two infantry battalions so far slated to deploy, it’s unclear what other combat forces will round out next rotation.

The 1st Infantry Division’s 1st Battalion, 63rd Armor Regiment is one of the few ground combat units in Europe that has not just returned from Iraq or currently is there. In fact, the unit was attached to SETAF to provide an armored punch for the unit as it pushed toward Baghdad from the north.

According to senior Army officials in Europe, the unit is now training for infantry duties at the Combat Maneuver Training Center in eastern Germany. Officials, however, could not confirm whether the battalion would deploy to Afghanistan.

“That unit has not been given deployment orders,” said Hilde Patton, a V Corps spokeswoman.

Even if 1-63 Armor does join the deployment, that still leaves four battalions worth of infantry off the roster.

So far, all the Pentagon has said is that “elements of XVIII Airborne Corps” would provide the balance of forces.

—Steve Liewer contributed to this report.

Operation Enduring Freedom 6

The next rotation of European-based units are expected to begin deploying to Afghanistan in late fall.

They include:

Southern European Task Force Headquarters and Headquarters Company, SETAFHeadquarters and Headquarters Company, 173rd Airborne Brigade1st Battalion, 508 Infantry Regiment2nd Battalion, 503 Infantry Regiment173rd Forward Support Battalion (Provisional)74th Long Range Surveillance DetachmentBattery D, 319th Field Artillery Regiment13th Military Police Company24th Quartermaster Company

V Corps Headquarters, Headquarters Company, 12th Aviation Brigade2nd Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment3rd Battalion, 158th Aviation RegimentCompany F, 159th Aviation BattalionCompany C, 3rd Battalion, 58th Aviation Regiment212th Military Police Company92nd Military Police CompanyTask Force 165th Military Intelligence77th Ordnance Company26th Quartermaster Company79th Medical Detachment71st Medical Detachment254th Medical Detachment

21st Theater Support Command Headquarters, Headquarters Company, 29th Support Group14th Movement Control Battalion720th Ordnance Company (Explosive Ordnance Disposal)Elements of 191st Ordnance Battalion23rd Ordnance Company5th Maintenance Company69th Transportation CompanyElements of the 251st Transportation CompanyNine military working dog teams

5th Signal Command 44th Signal BattalionElements of the 509th Signal Battalion

1st Personnel Command Headquarters, Headquarters Detachment, 510th Personnel Support BattalionCompany C, 510th Personnel Support BattalionSeveral postal platoons from the 510th PSB

266th Finance Command Headquarters, Headquarters Detachment, 39th Finance BattalionCompany A, 39th Finance BattalionCompany B, 208th Finance Battalion18th Engineer Brigade Headquarters, Headquarters Company, 18th Engineer Brigade60th Engineer Detachment7th Army Reserve Command Reserve augmentees for SETAF66th Military Intelligence Group Three tactical human intelligence teams

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