The Pentagon has announced troop rotations that will allow many of the U.S. soldiers who took part in the invasion phase of the war in Iraq to return to the United States. Nevertheless, the commander of the U.S.-led coalition forces is stressing that the war in Iraq is not over.
Prague, 24 July 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The Pentagon has announced plans to replace battle-weary U.S. soldiers in Iraq with fresh U.S. and international troops during the coming months.
U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Jack Keane said in Washington yesterday that members of the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division will be the first to be sent back to the United States under the new policy.
"We've established a 12-month rotation policy for Iraq. And first in is first out. So the 3rd Infantry Division of the United States Army is coming out in August and September. The remaining Marine division is coming out in the same time frame, and then the other units that are currently there will spend a 12-month tour and be replaced by other army units, as well as coalition divisions," Keane said.
The announcement comes at a time of sagging morale among the rank-and-file soldiers who had battled their way to Baghdad from desert camps in Kuwait. Most of the 3rd Infantry Division has been in the Persian Gulf region since last autumn. And some of those soldiers have been able to visit their families for only a few weeks since early last year.
Although no official date for the troops to return home had been officially announced by the Pentagon until yesterday, most of the division had hoped to be sent back to the United States by May or early June.
Keane said it is anticipated that the 101st Airborne Division -- which arrived in the Persian Gulf region shortly before the start of the war -- will be replaced between February and March 2004 by an as-yet-unspecified "multinational division."
According to Pentagon plans, one multinational division of some 9,200 troops is due to be in place between September and October. Led by Poland, the division is expected to replace soldiers of the 1st U.S. Marine Expeditionary Force, who also had been in the gulf region for months before participating in the ground invasion of Iraq.
The French news agency AFP quoted one unnamed U.S. officer as saying efforts to relieve the U.S. troops in Iraq have been hampered by the refusal of countries like India, France, and Germany to contribute soldiers to the U.S.-led coalition without a specific UN mandate.
Keane's announcement on redeployments comes just one day after a U.S.-led raid on a villa in the northern city of Mosul killed the sons of Saddam Hussein -- a development that U.S. officials hope will demoralize resistance in Iraq by loyalists of Hussein's regime. The Hussein brothers, Uday and Qusay, had directed the most important elements of the regime's security and intelligence operations.
Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of coalition ground forces in Iraq, said he believes the deaths of the Hussein brothers eventually will reduce guerrilla attacks against his troops. But he said former mid-level regime leaders and other elements are likely to continue to conduct a guerrilla war.
"The war continues. We continue to aggressively go after former regime loyalists. And in the past 48 hours my forces have conducted over 4,300 patrols and 48 raids. I must reiterate that the war continues. We remain focused on the objective that America and the coalition has put before us. That is, [to] defeat terrorism, [to] defeat the Saddam Hussein regime, [to] ensure that they never come back into power and [to] ensure the freedom of the Iraqi people. We will not falter, and we will not fail," Sanchez said.
The deaths today of three U.S. soldiers near Mosul in a possible revenge attack for the killing of Uday and Qusay Hussein has raised to 44 the number of U.S. soldiers killed by hostile fire in Iraq since U.S. President George W. Bush declared on 1 May that major combat operations had ended.
Six British soldiers also have been killed in violence. Foreign aid workers in groups like the International Red Cross and the UN-backed International Organization of Migration also have seen their offices and vehicles targeted recently.
But Sanchez suggested that an increasing number of Iraqis who are working with the U.S.-led coalition will take pressure off the U.S. soldiers. "In the security arena, nearly 24,000 Iraqi police are back on the job," he said. "More than 8,700 facilities' protective services guards have been hired, and they are on the streets protecting the critical facilities of Iraq. More than 800 guards are on the job protecting the borders, beginning to take control of Iraq's borders with its neighbors."
Sanchez also noted other U.S. efforts at building security in Iraq, such as helping to create a new Iraqi national army controlled by civilian leaders. "More than 11,000 have expressed interest in enlisting for the new Iraqi army, with the first battalion of the new Iraqi army -- that will be civilian controlled -- starting to train within 10 days," he said.
Sanchez said progress also has been made toward getting the judicial system in Iraq operating again so that law enforcement efforts are not bogged down by a backlog of cases. He noted that the courts are functioning for misdemeanor cases. And he said conditions are being set in order to try felony cases in the near term.