WASHINGTON - The Pentagon alerted about 40,000 active-duty and National Guard soldiers yesterday that they will be deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in the fall, a sign that the military expects hard fighting to continue through late next year.
The new orders will maintain the overall strength in Iraq at 15 combat brigades, about 130,000 troops, for next year. That is approximately the number of troops deployed in Iraq before President Bush ordered 25,000 additional troops deployed in January 2007.
The new deployments also will enable the Pentagon to keep the number of troops in Afghanistan at about 33,000, the current level. But senior Pentagon officials have said they are weighing a request to increase the troop levels in Afghanistan by two or possibly three brigades, about 10,000 troops.
The deployment plans announced yesterday will involve units and soldiers who have served two or three tours lasting as long as 15 months. Several of the units have been home less than 12 months, apparently violating a Pentagon goal of allowing soldiers at least a year between combat deployments.
The Army acknowledged in a statement that it is "increasingly a challenge" to find units that have been at home at least 12 months.
One unit alerted for deployment this fall, the headquarters of the 25th Infantry Division, returned from a 15-month assignment in northern Iraq in October. Its return to Iraq in the fall will mark its third combat tour.
Another, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Infantry Division, returned from a 15-month deployment in Iraq in November.
Senior military officers have cited the 15-month tours as a major reason that many senior enlisted soldiers are leaving the service.
In accordance with a White House directive last month, the Army suggested that it would limit the new deployments to 12 months rather than the 15-month deployments that have that have become routine as the Pentagon has run short of fresh troops available for service. Twelve months could translate into many more months away from home, however, as soldiers stage and train for deployment and redeployment.
In a speech last week, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates acknowledged that U.S. ground forces, including active-duty troops, National Guardsmen and Marines, are struggling to meet the demands of a two-front war.
"The risk of overextending the Army is real," Gates told a journalism symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo. If a new crisis broke out elsewhere, he said, "we would be hard-pressed to launch a major conventional ground operation."
But Gates said the strategic risk to the United States "is far greater ... if we were to fail in Iraq."
The call-up of the National Guard for deployments to Afghanistan will draw on about 14,000 troops from Texas, Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Tennessee. In addition, the Pentagon said it had alerted more than 3,100 soldiers from the Vermont National Guard to be prepared to deploy to Afghanistan in the spring of 2010 to help train the Afghan army.
About 33,000 American soldiers and Marines are in Afghanistan, and about 155,000 are in Iraq.
The active-duty Army deployments will involve about 25,000 soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division and brigade combat teams of the 4th Infantry Division, the 1st Infantry Division, the 82nd Airborne Division, the 1st Cavalry Division and the 172nd Infantry Brigade.