The U.S. Defense Department announced Thursday it has ordered several thousand soldiers to stay in Iraq beyond their one-year assignment, which was about to end.
The announcement comes one day after President Bush promised Iraq's new prime minister that he will provide more troops to try to end the violence in Baghdad. The Pentagon announcement says the decision "reflects the continued commitment of the United States to the security of the Iraqi people."
Earlier in the day, spokesman Bryan Whitman said the top U.S. general in Iraq was working on a plan to enhance security in Baghdad. But the spokesman said the extension of any unit's time in Iraq would only be done after "a great degree of deliberation" and only if there were no other way to meet the security requirement. "The department takes very seriously any measure that would extend individuals or units beyond 365 days. That would not be done lightly," he said.
The department says Secretary Donald Rumsfeld personally approved the request from the commander in Iraq to extent the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team for up to four months. The decision comes amid continuing violence in Baghdad, with almost daily bombings that kill dozens of people. The brigade has about 3,500 members.
It has operated mainly in northern Iraq, but a senior official said Thursday most of it is expected to move to Baghdad because of what he called its "unique capabilities and experience." The brigade has Stryker armored vehicles and has experience working in an urban environment.
In the same announcement, the defense department also identified four other large units that will be deployed to Iraq later this year to replace units scheduled to come home. And it put an additional unit on stand-by in case extra forces are needed.
The United States has about 130,000 troops in Iraq. Commanders and senior officials have expressed the hope that they will be able to begin reducing that number this year, as Iraqi forces become capable of providing security in the country. But the continuing violence is delaying any such a reduction.