Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the combat duty tours of some 20,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq are being extended for three months to confront the ongoing violence by anti-coalition insurgents.
The decision to extend by 90 days the combat tours of some 20,000 U.S. soldiers breaks a promise that their deployments to Iraq would be limited to just one year. In announcing the move, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called it regrettable but said it was necessary to successfully complete the mission of stabilizing Iraq. "Needless to say we regret having to extend those individuals, but the country is at war and we need to do what is necessary to succeed," he said.
Mr. Rumsfeld asserted that what he termed the challenge posed by insurgents in the city of Fallujah is being contained and that the situation in the south of Iraq is largely stabilized.
He said opponents of the coalition will not upset plans to hand over control of the country to an independent Iraqi government at the end of June. "A small band of terrorists are not going to be permitted to determine the fate of the 25 million Iraqi people," he added.
Still, during a briefing for reporters at the Pentagon, Mr. Rumsfeld acknowledged that a year ago he would not have predicted that U.S. troops would suffer the number of casualties they have suffered in recent days. He said, "I certainly would not have estimated that we would have had the number of individuals lost, that we have had lost in the last week."
With more than 80 troops killed so far this month, April has become the deadliest for U.S. forces since entering Iraq just over a year ago. At the same time, Mr. Rumsfeld lashed out at Arab broadcasters who have claimed that hundreds of Iraqi civilians have been killed in the latest violence. "What al-Jazeera is doing is vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable," he added.
There are currently some 137,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. The number was to have dropped to around 115,000 next month but commanders decided they needed to keep additional forces in the country to deal with the ongoing violence.