The U.S. Army’s 1st Armored Division, the unit delayed from leaving Iraq when violence flared in April, now is scheduled to depart by July 15, the head of U.S. military operations in Iraq said.
Replacing the division will be a brigade combat team from the Army’s 10th Mountain Division and a pair of U.S. Marine brigades, Army Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Metz said. Those units will start arriving by the end of June, he said.
Earlier, Army officials said the 2nd Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division would arrive in time to replace 1st Armored, but that unit won’t reach Iraq until early fall, the military said.
Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said there was a small possibility the 1st Armored’s stay could be extended again, but Metz said that possibility was “infinitesimally small.”
“We’re doing everything we can to have all Task Force 1st Armored out of harm’s way by 15 July,” Metz said Thursday. “We’re on the glide path to achieve that.”
The task force includes the Army’s Louisiana-based 2nd Armored Cavalry regiment, which has been attached to 1st Armored, and support elements.
The division rolled into Baghdad in May 2003 — just after President Bush declared major combat at an end — and occupied the capital until March.
1st Armored was already leaving the country in April when U.S. ground forces commander Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez called it back and sent it to fight a Shiite Muslim uprising in south-central Iraq.
The overall number of U.S. troops will drop from around 138,000 to about 130,000 when the 16,000 or so soldiers with 1st Armored are replaced by about 12,000 troops from the Fort Drum, N.Y.-based 10th Mountain Division and the Marine brigades, the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit from Camp Pendleton, Calif., and the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit from Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Metz said this fall’s troop rotation would be done more gradually than the previous one, which refreshed almost the entire U.S. military presence in Iraq within three months, putting about 250,000 personnel on the move.
That rotation, the largest single troop movement in U.S. history, left the military vulnerable to attacks, Metz said.
“We created a risky period for ourselves by trying to flow hundreds of thousands of troops in two different directions over such a narrow window of time,” he said.
“Regretfully we lost kids who thought they were on their last week or those who were on their first week. We’re not going to recreate that risk period.”
The next rotation will be stretched out over a year.
The first to leave will be the Army’s so-called Stryker Brigade — 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division based at Fort Lewis, Wash. — followed by the Germany-based 1st Infantry Division, Metz said.