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ARLINGTON, Va. – Two units’ deployments in Afghanistan have been extended, the Defense Department announced Thursday night.

The 82nd Airborne Division Headquarters will spend about 50 extra days in Afghanistan, and the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade will be extended for about two weeks, a Defense Department news release said.

“The process will be managed to avoid stop-loss for personnel,” the news release said.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in the country, told Stars and Stripes on Friday that this was an isolated move and he knew of no plans to extend any additional units.

The Defense Department plans to end the use of stop-loss in all but extreme cases by March 2011. Beginning this January, active-duty soldiers will deploy without being subject to stop-loss.

The extensions are meant to ensure that the units’ replacements get their full year at home, the news release said.

The 101st Airborne Division Headquarters will deploy six months ahead of schedule to relieve the 82nd. The 10th Combat Aviation Brigade will also deploy to Afghanistan this spring.

The moves are part of a U.S. Forces-Afghanistan effort to ensure the headquarters in Afghanistan come from the 82nd, 101st and later the 10th Mountain Division for the near term, an Army official said.

That way, the units return to work in areas and with people that they are familiar with, helping them build trust with locals and eventually increasing their time at home, the official said.

The Army has pursued a similar strategy in Iraq, where the headquarters for U.S. troops in Baghdad has alternated between the 4th Infantry Division and the 1st Cavalry Division, said Army spokesman Lt. Col. Lee Packnett.

“It gives the locals familiarity with the patch, because they identify more with the unit patch than individuals, and probably 30 percent of a unit rotates back,” Packnett said.

Still, the news is reminiscent of the bad old days, when units in Iraq were frequently extended, eventually prompting Defense Secretary Robert Gates to lengthen all Army deployments to the U.S. Central Command theater of operations from 12 to 15 months in April 2007.

Army rotations to the CENTCOM theater went back to 12 months in August 2008.

Even with the drawdown in Iraq, the number of soldiers deployed is expected to increase slightly through mid 2010, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey said in January.

U.S. troop strength in Iraq is expected to remain fairly close to what it is now until the elections in January, while the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is expected to reach 68,000 this year, and the top commander there could ask for more.


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