(WASHINGTON) — The Pentagon has notified more than 35,000 Army soldiers to be prepared to deploy to Iraq beginning this fall, a move that would allow commanders to maintain the ongoing buildup of troops through the end of the year if needed.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said Tuesday the deployment orders, which have been signed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, do not mean that the military has made a decision to keep the increased level of 20 brigades in Iraq through December. A brigade is roughly 3,500 soldiers.
Instead, he said the decision gives the Pentagon the “capability” to carry the buildup to the end of the year. The replacement forces, Whitman said, would give commanders in Iraq the flexibility they need to complete the mission there.
The announcement, said Whitman, has “nothing to do” with a decision to extend the troop buildup. He said the Pentagon “has been very clear that a decision about the duration of the surge will depend on conditions on the ground.”
Early this year, President Bush ordered close to 30,000 additional troops to Iraq to quell the spiking violence particularly in and around Baghdad. Gates and his military leaders have said that commanders in Iraq will make recommendations in September on whether the buildup has been successful, and whether it should continue or if troops can begin coming home.
There has been increasing pressure from Congress and the American public to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq. Bush vetoed the $124.2 billion legislation that would have funded the war but which called for troops to start coming home this fall, and lawmakers are currently crafting a compromise bill.
According to the Army, the combat brigades would deploy for up to 15 months. The Army also said that close to 1,000 additional support troops from the U.S. Army Reserves would also deploy in August. Those would come from two units, an engineer battalion from Fort Thomas, Ky., and a signal battalion from Fort Huachuca, Az.