Richard Olson, a spokesman at Fort Stewart, Ga., where the 16,500-soldier division is based, said two of its three brigades will not be returning home in August and September as scheduled. The other unit, the 3rd Brigade, has been arriving at Fort Benning, Ga., and will complete its homecoming this month, he said.
In an e-mail this week to Army spouses that was obtained by the Associated Press, the division's commander, Maj. Gen. Buford C. Blount III, said he was uncertain how long the soldiers would remain in Iraq.
"I wish I could tell you how long ... but everything I have told you before has changed," he wrote. On July 7, Blount said the soldiers would begin returning home by summer's end.
In his e-mail, Blount said the division had been ordered to stay "due to the uncertainty of the situation in Iraq and the recent increase in attacks on the coalition forces."
But last night, Lawrence DiRita, a spokesman for Rumsfeld, said: "The intent remains that the remainder of the division will be home by the fall. The details of the redeployment of the division are still being worked out."
Rumsfeld told Congress last week that one of the division's two remaining brigades would be home in August and the other in September.
A senior defense official who requested anonymity attempted to explain the confusion, saying that Blount might not have had all of the information about the deployment timetables of other U.S. units in Iraq or those of soldiers from other nations. Rumsfeld and top officers are working on a rotation schedule, but it is uncertain when the details will be announced.
Rep. Jack Kingston, a Georgia Republican whose district includes Fort Stewart, said yesterday that he would try to clarify the timetable for the 3rd Infantry's return.
"If this current news about the delay holds, it will be a devastating blow to the families," Kingston said. "I am confident that the Fort Stewart leadership will continue to do all they can to support the families during this time of uncertainty."
The division already has seen its deployment extended once. After President Bush's announcement May 1 that major combat had ended, its soldiers were told that they would return home by June. Another delay could further erode the morale of soldiers and families.
Further delay also is likely to raise new questions among lawmakers who have expressed increasing concern that the Army, which has more than half its 10 combat divisions deployed in Iraq, is stretched too thinly and that other nations are not contributing enough troops to the peacekeeping mission.
With its impending rotation plan, Pentagon officials will determine which other active-duty Army units, and possibly some National Guard units, will be pressed into Iraq duty in the coming months. About 145,000 American troops are now in Iraq and that force level could extend into next year, according to Gen. Tommy R. Franks, who commanded the U.S.-led invasion.
As division officials announced the extension of its tour, the Army said a 3rd Infantry Division soldier was killed and at least six wounded early yesterday in West Baghdad when their convoy was attacked with rocket-propelled grenades.