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WASHINGTON — White House officials on Thursday admitted that President Bush was unaware of defense plans to immediately extend Army combat tours when he criticized Democrats’ budget plans as potentially forcing troops to spend more time in Iraq.

On Tuesday, Bush said that congressional delays in approving supplemental war funds “will mean that some of our military families could wait longer for their loved ones to return from the front lines.”

But on Wednesday, Secretary of Defense announced all soldiers in Central Command will begin serving 15-month tours instead of the standard 12-month rotations. He said the move was a reflection of the demands on the service, and had been discussed by defense officials prior to the January “surge” of U.S. forces into Iraq.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino on Thursday said that Bush was “absolutely straightforward” in his comments about the Democrats’ funding delays, and that the president has “known for a while” that the Defense Department was looking for ways to deal with the increased operation tempo overseas.

But when pressed why his critical comments came just a day before the tour-length announcement, she added, “I’m not aware that the president knew that Secretary Gates had come to any decisions” about going to a 15-month rotation schedule.

“Every day that we don’t get the money is one that, as Secretary Gates and Gen. (Peter) Pace have said, creates problems in terms of the training,” she said. “…I guess the way I would put it is that it gets better than it would otherwise be if we get the money today, and it gets worse than it would otherwise be if we don’t.”

The 15-month tours apply only to active-duty soldiers, not Marines, airmen, sailors or reservists. Army officials called the decision a temporary extension, but offered no timeline for when units might return to the 12-month rotations.


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