US Troop Buildup in Iraq Approaches 30,000
By David Morgan and Andrew Gray

Saturday 17 March 2007

Washington - The U.S. Army said on Friday it was sending some 2,600 soldiers to Iraq earlier than planned, raising the number of extra U.S. troops being deployed in a new effort to stabilize the country to nearly 30,000.

News of the latest deployment came as Democrats who now control Congress pushed legislation to end a war that is increasingly unpopular in the United States.

The combat aviation brigade from the U.S. Army's Third Infantry Division would deploy in early May, some 45 days sooner than previously envisaged, the Army said.

The brigade is the third element to be announced in a package of support units being deployed to assist 21,500 extra combat troops ordered to Iraq under a plan unveiled by President George W. Bush in January.

"The aviation brigade, which is really principally rotary helicopter support for the troops, is the final piece," Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters.

There are more than 140,000 U.S. troops already fighting in Iraq, where sectarian violence has thwarted American efforts to bring the four-year-old war to a close.

Gates said he also approved a significant increase in the number of U.S. military personnel training security forces in Afghanistan. Defense officials said the number of extra trainers was around 3,000.

The White House asked the U.S. Congress earlier this month to consider funding more trainers for Afghanistan.

Bush's plan for Iraq aims to quell violence in Baghdad and the western province of Anbar. Under the plan, the extra troops are meant to establish security while Iraqi politicians move ahead with political reconciliation.

The numbers released on Friday show the administration has already approved some 7,200 support troops.

The list includes the Army combat aviation brigade as well as 2,200 military police, requested by commanders to supervise detainees expected to be picked up during the security crackdown, and another 2,400 support personnel.

Gates urged Congress to approve an emergency spending bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan quickly and without the conditions Democrats want to impose a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

"It starts to be a real problem for us in April if we don't have the money," he told reporters traveling back with him to Washington, D.C. after a change of command ceremony at U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida.

"Legislation that would involve specific deadlines and strict conditions would make it difficult, if not impossible, for our commanders to achieve their mission."