|12-03-2004, 11:08 AM||#1 (permalink)|
U.S. Marine ( FAST )
Join Date: Sep 2004
U.S. Airborne Troops Head for Iraq in Major Buildup
By Charles Aldinger
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military kicked off a buildup of forces in Iraq by 12,000 troops on Friday as 82nd Airborne Division soldiers began leaving Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to boost security for Jan. 30 Iraqi elections.
Officials at the base said first elements of two battalions, each with about 750 elite paratroopers, would move on Friday and the transit of 1,500 would be completed early next week.
The Pentagon said this week that a force of 138,000 U.S. troops currently in Iraq would be increased by the end of December to 150,000, the highest level of the entire war, which began in March 2003, to battle insurgents and bolster polling security.
Previously, the largest number of U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq during the 20-month war was 148,000 in May 2003. But an increasingly violent insurgency has taken the lives of hundreds of U.S. troops in recent months and more than 1,250 Americans have died since the invasion.
The 150,000-strong U.S. troop level will continue until at least March and will include extensions of promised yearlong Iraq tours of 8,100 Army soldiers to 14 months and the seven-month tours of 2,300 Marines to nine months.
The 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment of the 82nd division based at Fort Bragg will remain in Iraq on temporary duty for at least three months.
"Some elements are moving today," said Sgt. 1st Class Chris Fletcher, a spokesman for the division. "We expect that (the move) will be completed early next week."
Pentagon officials said the airborne troops were likely to be stationed in the Baghdad area to provide security for U.S. and other coalition officials, freeing up some other American forces to move into the so-called Sunni Triangle and elsewhere to battle insurgents.
Current "flexible" plans are to reduce the 150,000 U.S. troops, requested by U.S. Central Command chief Gen. John Abizaid, back to current levels of less than 140,000 by mid-March, defense officials said.
The U.S. military previously sent 1,100 82nd Airborne soldiers to Afghanistan in September to boost security for the presidential election there. Polling took place in Afghanistan on Oct. 9 with little violence.
© Reuters 2004. All Rights Reserved.
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