Pentagon says it still plans to have3rd ID home from Iraq by September
ARLINGTON, Va. — The Army’s 3rd Infantry Division has received conflicting messages of late, but a Pentagon official insisted Tuesday that the plan is to have everyone home from Iraq by September.
The soldiers instrumental in tackling Baghdad, some of whom have been in the region for nearly a year, have ridden an emotional roller coaster of late wondering when they’ll be coming home.
“Today, it’s planned for September,” said Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita.
“What I’m telling you, what the combatant commander and the secretary have said is that division, right now, the intent remains to have that division home by September,” Di Rita said.
Maj. Gen. Buford C. Blount III, commander of the Fort Stewart, Ga., division, is not as optimistic.
The units have been ordered to stay “due to the uncertainty of the situation in Iraq and the recent increase in attacks on the coalition forces,” Blount said Monday in an e-mail message to Army spouses that was obtained by Stars and Stripes. Blount said in the e-mail message that his “best guess is 60-120 days.”
U.S. Central Command also weighed in Tuesday. In a statement posted on the official Web site, the command said it “remains committed to the complete return of 3rd Infantry Division to its home station by September, pending international or U.S. replacement units. As always, the security situation could affect deployments and redeployments.”
Leaders know the changing news affects troop morale, Di Rita said, and are doing what they can to safeguard against that.
“The uncertainty is something that everybody tries to guard against, no question about it,” Di Rita told defense reporters Tuesday. “No, I don’t think anybody screwed up, I think it’s a question of, as you kind of work toward a better definition of a timeline and the plans, there are going to be details that are more readily available than others.”
Di Rita, who doubles as the Pentagon’s lead spokesman and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s chief of staff, met Tuesday morning with Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command, who indicated the troop presence of roughly 160,000 U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq will remain at that number for the foreseeable future.
Now it’s a matter of finding ways to sustain that number with U.S. forces, or by tapping coalition and other nations who have expressed an interest in supplying troops, said Di Rita, who did not provide details.
The division’s 3rd Brigade already is moving out of the country and beginning their trip home. Soldiers of the division’s 1st and 2nd Brigades remain in Iraq, and, according to Di Rita, on the predetermined time line of returning home by the fall — a contrast to Blount’s message.
“Gen. Blount is … as we all are, concerned about being able to give some definition to what the families know,” Di Rita explained. “Because plans are still being worked out, I think he is trying to keep everybody understanding that when we say that it lacks specific definition, it lacks specific definition for what he wants to be able to tell families. … The details are still being worked through.”
Last week, when Rumsfeld testified before Congress, he said the 2nd Brigade would be coming home by August. Di Rita says “that still could happen.”
“You wanted to generally know when does this end, and right now, the end is, at the moment, the thinking remains, this division will be coming home by September,” Di Rita said.