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US Troops in Iraq to Focus More on Support Than Combat

The Pentagon announced Tuesday it will change the composition and mission of some troop units being deployed to Iraq in the coming months to reduce their combat role and increase their ability to train and support Iraqi forces.

Spokesman Bryan Whitman says seven U.S. combat brigades are scheduled to be replaced by fresh forces in the coming months, but four of them will be replaced by somewhat different units - specially created Advisory and Assistance Brigades.

"The four brigades that will serve in the advisory and assist role will replace formations that are currently on the ground in Iraq," said Bryan Whitman. "The mission of these units will to train and mentor Iraqi security forces, conduct coordinated counter-terrorism missions and protect ongoing civilian and military efforts in Iraq."

Whitman says these brigades will still have significant combat power, and will use it when necessary. But he says combat will not be their primary mission, and they will be augmented with extra military engineers, civil affairs specialists, military police, transportation troops and relatively senior officers to assist in liaison with Iraqi forces.

Whitman says the new units will be slightly larger than the standard size of a combat brigade, which is between 3,500 and 4,000.

The Pentagon also announced that three standard combat brigades will deploy to replace similar units in the coming months. Those units will conduct what the military calls "full spectrum operations" until the end of the U.S. role in combat in Iraq at the end of August of next year. At that point, Whitman says those units could be withdrawn or could be given the Advise and Assist mission.

Overall, Whitman says there will be no significant increase in the U.S. troop strength in Iraq, currently at 128,000. The plan is for that number to fall sharply in the first part of next year to between 35,000 and 50,000 by the end of next August. Much of that residual force is expected to fall into the new category of Advisory and Assistance Brigades. All U.S. troops are to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011.