Military may let Louisiana unit leave Iraq early
WASHINGTON — Officials will try to speed up the return of a Louisiana unit already preparing a move back home from Iraq, to help its soldiers more quickly deal with family issues related to the hurricane damage, the commander of coalition forces in Iraq said Friday.
Lt. Gen. John Vines, commander of Multi-National Corps-Iraq, said officials “might be able to accelerate their rotations by a week or so to get them home to their families.” But units from Mississippi and Alabama in Iraq who aren’t already scheduled to return won’t be able to return early.
“The problem is the security mission here goes on,” he said. “If we take some troops out it puts others at risk. Unless someone is known to have a family member wounded or killed, there is not a provision for them to return.”
Vines said officials are working to get those troops in touch with their families, and “considering what other options might be available there.”
The military relief efforts which have followed the hurricane should not have an effect on other troop rotations in and out of Iraq, Vines said. He could not say wether any troops currently preparing for deployment might be sent into Louisiana or surrounding areas instead, to help with the military operations there.
But he did say the U.S. military is likely to send far fewer extra troops to Iraq for security duty during the October national referendum than it did for last January’s election.
He expected no more than 2,000 extra troops to be provided because there are now thousands more Iraqi troops available than there were in January.
There currently are about 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, according to Lt. Col. Barry Venable, a Pentagon spokesman.
Last winter the U.S. military temporarily boosted its troop strength in Iraq from about 138,000 to nearly 160,000 to bolster security during elections for a national assembly. Some U.S.officials had said in recent weeks that it appeared likely that a similar increase would be necessary this fall, but Vines indicated differently.
“The number 140,000 is probably about right,” Vines said.
Later, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said recommendations on adjustments to U.S. troop levels in Iraq would be made by Vines’ boss, Gen. George Casey, who is the top overall commander in the country, and by Gen. John Abizaid, the commander of U.S. Central Command.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.