ARLINGTON, Va. — About 2,600 soldiers with the 3rd Infantry Division’s Combat Aviation Brigade will deploy early as part of the Iraq “surge,” a senior defense official said Friday.

Based in Fort Stewart, Ga., the unit was originally supposed to deploy in June, but on Thursday Defense Secretary Robert Gates approved a request to send the unit downrange 45 days early, the official said.

The aviation brigade has a mix of helicopters including Black Hawks and Chinooks to support the five brigade combat teams expected to arrive by May in Iraq as part of the temporary troop increase, the official said. Right now, there are three combat aviation brigades in Iraq.

The soldiers in the brigade would come in addition to the roughly 2,200 military police and supporting elements that the U.S. commander in Iraq has requested for detainee operations, and the 2,400 support troops included in the “surge,” bringing the total troop increase to about 28,700, the official said.

Originally, the plan estimated adding about 21,500 troops to Iraq.

Defense officials told the Associated Press that Gen. David Petraeus, the new U.S. commander in Iraq, wanted the buildup to move as quickly as possible.

“This was requested over a month ago as part of the surge,” Col. Steven Boylan, public affairs officer for Petraeus, told the news service. “These are what we call the enablers.”

Army spokesman Paul Boyce would not confirm if the aviation brigade is heading to Iraq earlier than expected, saying it would be “inappropriate to speculate” on troop deployments until all soldiers and families had been informed.

“Soldiers and their families deserve to be told first,” Boyce said.

The process of notifying troops and their families about upcoming deployments does not always work smoothly.

In November, the Defense Department announced the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, based in Vicenza, Italy, would be heading to Iraq as part of the 2007-2009 rotation — the unit was later ordered to Afghanistan instead. But initial news of the deployment caught the unit’s soldiers and their families by surprise.

At the time, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said deployments are supposed to be made public only after units have been told.

“I wish that was perfect, and every individual would know before it was made public, and I don’t know in this particular case at what level in the chain of command that might have knowledge of this,” he said.

Currently, about 142,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Iraq.

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