WASHINGTON - The US Army and Marine Corps are looking for ways to send more combat units into the Iraq rotation pool and are considering accelerating the pace of deployments for some brigades in order to keep more than 140,000 troops in the country through at least the spring of 2007, The Washington Times reported Monday.
Citing unnamed Pentagon officials, the newspaper reported that instead of planning to draw down 30,000 soldiers and Marines this year, the two services are now trying to figure out how to keep the equivalent of two extra divisions, or 40,000 troops, in Iraq.
Currently, Army units deploy for about a year, then spend one year at their home base before going back to Iraq or Afghanistan. Under these rules, the number of troops was to drop to 100,000 by next year.
The report said the Army has met a request by Central Command head General John Abizaid for more forces in the rotation pool by delaying the departure of a Stryker armored vehicle brigade to Alaska and by calling in a fast-reaction brigade combat team from Kuwait.
But a longer-term solution may require the Army to look at adding more units to the rotation mix, according to The Times.
"It may accelerate the pace of deployments, or it may mean looking at calling up additional units," the paper quotes a Pentagon official as saying.
That option may become reality in November, when the Pentagon is expected to identify units that will go to Iraq next year, the report said.
The Marine Corps, which patrols restive Anbar Province west of Baghdad, rotates two expeditionary forces every seven months.
The increased demand for troops comes at a time when military analysts say it is nearly stressed to the breaking point, The Times said.
Non-deployed combat brigades are experiencing low readiness ratings due mostly to a lack of usable weapons and equipment, the paper noted.
The wear and tear in Iraq is ruining M1A1 tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles, Humvee vehicles and other equipment at such a fast pace that the Army has neither the money nor the industrial base to replace them, according to The Times.