Army Chief May Shorten Tours In Iraq, Afghanistan by Summer
Washington Pos
By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 17, 2008; Page A07

Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army's chief of staff, said yesterday he hopes to shorten the 15-month tours in Iraq and Afghanistan this summer. The move would end a policy, required by the buildup of nearly 30,000 U.S. troops in Iraq last year, that has placed significant stress on soldiers and their families.

Casey suggested that the withdrawal from Iraq of five U.S. Army combat brigades by July could allow soldiers once again to deploy for 12 months and then spend a year at home, although he cautioned that a decision will depend on conditions in Iraq.

"The big question is when you come off the 15 [months] . . . and the answer is probably sometime around next summer," Casey told a gathering of the Association of the United States Army. A decision would not be final "until I am sure we are not going back on that," Casey said in response to a question on the heavy pace of combat zone rotations.

Pentagon and military leaders have emphasized that they seek to end the taxing 15-month-long Army tours as soon as possible, but Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates predicted during a visit to Baghdad last month that such a change would not be possible until the end of this year at the earliest.

Casey's remarks could reflect an optimism shared by other senior military officials that the U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq announced last fall -- with five Army combat brigades scheduled to leave by July -- will continue apace after the summer. U.S. commanders in Iraq have begun planning for the possibility of a further reduction of another five brigades by the end of the year, with a recommendation on the drawdown expected this spring from Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

Casey, who became Army chief in April after serving for nearly three years as the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, has warned for months that the Army is "out of balance" and cannot long sustain the increased troop levels in Iraq. He reiterated those convictions yesterday but indicated that if current trends continue, the Army will return to a normal pace of training, deployments and recuperation within four years.

"The surge has sucked all of the flexibility out of the system," Casey said. "But as they come back over the spring, we'll start getting more flexibility back."

As more troops return from Iraq, and as the Army adds tens of thousands of new soldiers by 2010, the number of combat brigades available to deploy will grow, Casey said. As a result, he said, "If we stay steady at about 15 active brigades [deployed] . . . we can put ourselves back in balance in about four years."

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