Early deployment pushes surge to 30,000

By Pauline Jelinek - The Associated Press
Posted : Friday Mar 16, 2007 13:34:50 EDT

Some 2,600 soldiers from a combat aviation unit will go to Iraq ahead of schedule, part of the support troops the Pentagon has said are needed to back the extra combat units President Bush is sending there.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates approved the deployment of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division combat aviation brigade 45 days earlier than planned, meaning they will go around May, Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said Friday.

The approval will mean roughly 30,000 troops eventually will go to Baghdad and Anbar province in the Bush administration’s buildup to crack down on rising sectarian violence and insurgents, Whitman said.

Two months ago, Bush ordered 21,500 additional American troops to Iraq to help calm the violence. He did not initially mention the support units that would also be needed.

Officials later said that the number of support troops needed for the influx could be around 7,000. These include some 2,400 combat support troops and some 2,200 military police to help with an anticipated increase in detainees picked up during the crackdown.

Asked what he would say to critics of the steady additions to the original number, Whitman noted that some of the requests came after new U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus arrived in Iraq and assessed what he needed.

“The secretary wants to be responsive to the commanders,” he said, adding that Gates wants to give commanders what they believe they need to do the job as long as the requests are justified.

In an AP Radio interview, Canadian Army Major General Peter Devlin, deputy commanding general of coalition forces in Iraq, said of the extra troops, “What was always asked for was, beyond the combat formation, were the typical enablers that go along with combat formations.”

Asked whether there are likely to be more such requests, he said, “Yes. It is exactly something that you would expect, is that there is a need for support troops to do what they do.”

The new aviation deployment would provide transport helicopters and gunships to assist ground brigades already flowing in for the buildup. Officials said Petraeus wanted the buildup to move as quickly as possible.

The Boston Globe reported on its Web site Thursday night that Petraeus had asked for an Army combat aviation unit with 2,500 to 3,000 troops, which were likely to come from the Army’s 3rd Infantry, citing unidentified senior Pentagon officials.

“This is the next shoe to drop,” the Globe quoted a senior Pentagon official closely involved in war planning as saying.

The official added, "You cannot put five combat brigades in there and not have more aviation guys, military police and intelligence units."