ARLINGTON, Va. — U.S. forces deploying to Iraq could go for as long as one year, Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command, said Wednesday.

“I think if you look at contemplating keeping the force structure stable for a while until the security situation improves, that yearlong deployments are possible for certain units,” Abizaid said Wednesday at his first appearance at a Pentagon press briefing.

“Looking at what I contemplate being the force levels for a while, probably for the next 90 days, we need to probably say to our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, ‘Here’s the maximum extent of your deployment. If we can get you home sooner, we will,’” Abizaid said.

Yearlong deployments were common practice during Vietnam, but had been scaled to typical six-month deployments in recent history. But they’re not unprecedented, he said.

The 1st Armored Division, based primarily in Germany, pulled a nearly yearlong deployment to Bosnia and Herzegovina, from December 1995 to November 1996.

“We’ve done it before, and we can do it again,” Abizaid said.

Being up front with troops about their end-dates will be a key point Abizaid plans to discuss with his military leaders when he travels to the region tomorrow, he said.

His promise comes on the heels of fever-pitch tensions surrounding the redeployment dates for soldiers of the Fort Stewart, Ga.-based 3rd Infantry Division, who twice have been told they were going home, only to have hopes dashed when word trickled down that their homecomings were being delayed [see story at right].

“We will bring those troops home by September, certainly out of Iraq by September, and they’ll be moving towards home in September,” he said.

“And a lot of it, of course, will depend upon the rotational scheme that either the U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps or allied coalition forces happen to submit to us in the next week. But we’ll know the specific answers to the questions in about a week.”

Their return to the United States was delayed because of, in part, intelligence reports in which U.S. military officials expected an escalation of violence in central Iraq between July 14 and 18, the anniversary period for several Iraqi military events. “... [W]e could expect a lot of activity from Ba’athist government [supporters], and we were picking up a lot of information that indicated there were significant terrorist groups and activities we were having to be concerned about as well,” Abizaid said.

“I believe there’s midlevel Baathist, Iraqi intelligence service people, Special Security Organization people, Special Republican Guard people that have organized at the regional level in cellular structure and are conducting what I would describe as a classical guerrilla-type campaign against us,” Abizaid said. “It’s low-intensity conflict, in our doctrinal terms, but it’s war, however you describe it.”

He said he reported to Pentagon leaders that “it would not be prudent at that time” to diminish the force presence, which consists of roughly 148,000 U.S. forces and 13,000 coalition forces.

Abizaid, who assumed leadership of CENTCOM July 7 from retired Gen. Tommy Franks, echoed the Pentagon’s assertions that two brigades of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division left in Iraq will be heading home by September.

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