WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON - A mix of Army active-duty and National Guard troops will be sent to Iraq starting in September to relieve the war-weary soldiers who overthrew Saddam Hussein's regime but are still coping with daily attacks.
Gen. John M. Keane, the Army's acting chief of staff, said the intent is to maintain the current level of U.S. combat troops, about 150,000, at least through March, and to allow the current forces to gradually return home.
"We want to instill predictability in the force by developing a force rotation plan with an intended Iraq tour length of up to 12 months," Keane told reporters at the Pentagon.
Active-duty units are expected to spend up to a year in Iraq, Guard units about six months.
Yearlong deployments, Keane said, were used throughout the Vietnam War and in the Balkans beginning in 1995, though the Balkans tours were quickly reduced to six-month rotations.
Among the soldiers heading into Iraq next spring to replace active-duty troops will be two National Guard brigades, totaling about 10,000 soldiers.
There was no confirmation on which Guard units would be sent, though a Pentagon official said two being considered are the 30th Mechanized Infantry Brigade from North Carolina and the 39th Light Infantry Brigade from Arkansas.
Spokesmen for those units said they had received no word from the Pentagon about deployments.
About 68,000 Guard troops, out of a total Army Guard force of 350,000, are now deployed, most of them in the Persian Gulf region.
One Pentagon official suggested that deploying more citizen-soldiers for Iraq and keeping them on duty for a year - with resulting effects on small businesses, police departments and families - could pose a risk for the Bush administration.
"You're now testing the political will of the country," said the official, who requested anonymity. "The Defense Department would prefer to [occupy Iraq] with active forces."
The fresh active-duty troops could spend up to a year in the region. The Guard troops are expected to spend about six months in Iraq, though the total extent of their deployment would be up to a year. The additional months would be devoted to training, tending to personal affairs and demobilization once they return home.
Once the two Guard brigades leave Iraq after six months, "we would probably replace them with two additional ones," Keane said.
There are 15 Army Guard combat brigades that the Pentagon could turn to for Iraq duty, none in Maryland.
These units, called enhanced separate brigades, were formed after the Persian Gulf war and have received better training and equipment than other Guard units have.
Turning to the Guard once again reflects the strains of the active-duty Army, which has 16 of its 33 combat brigades in Iraq, and the difficulties in persuading other nations to provide soldiers for the peacekeeping and occupation mission.
"The commitment to Iraq is obviously of concern to us in terms of the size and scale of that commitment," Keane said. "If we had to continue at [the current] level, it would challenge us quite a bit."
Help still sought
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who briefed reporters separately yesterday on his recent trip to Iraq, said the Pentagon is still trying to enlist other nations to contribute troops to the Iraq occupation.
Asked whether the Pentagon still expects 30,000 troops from other nations by the fall - an estimate that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld gave Congress two weeks ago - Wolfowitz said he was uncertain.
"I can't give you a number," he said. "And I hope any number I would give you would keep growing daily."
The rotation plan calls for the remaining two brigades of the 3rd Infantry Division, which spearheaded the Iraqi invasion and have been in the region nearly a year, to be replaced by the 82nd Airborne Division.
The Army's newest and most high-tech unit, the Stryker brigade from Fort Lewis, Wash., will replace the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment from Fort Carson, Colo., by spring.
Some defense officials had speculated that additional Marine Corps troops would replace Army units, but no additional Marine units were named yesterday in the rotation plan.
The current 9,000-member Marine force in Iraq that took part in the three-week war will be replaced in September by a Polish-led multinational division, officials said.
Replacing the 101st
Together with the British force of about 12,000 in Iraq, the Polish-led force would bring the number of non-American forces to about 20,000 by fall. The plan also anticipates that the 101st Airborne Division will be replaced in March by a third multinational division yet to be formed.
Army Maj. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, vice director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the additional non-American units are likely to be organized by December.
"If we get a larger [foreign] contribution, that would affect the U.S. [troop] requirement as time passes," McChrystal said. "If we get smaller, then it would just adjust."
Some on Capitol Hill are calling for boosting the 480,000-soldier active-duty Army by tens of thousands.
"Certainly the force is stretched," Keane said. "We need more infantry, we need more military police, we need more civil affairs [specialists]. Those are facts."
But he said he was not ready to ask Rumsfeld for more forces.