By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Nov. 6, 2008 - About 3,000 soldiers assigned to the 101st Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team will leave Iraq nearly two months earlier than planned, reducing the total number of U.S. brigades in Iraq to 14, military officials said. Improved security and decreased violence across the unit's area of operations in northwestern Baghdad is enabling the early redeployment of the soldiers back to Fort Campbell, Ky., Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters today.
The unit is commencing pack-up operations, Whitman said, and its return window is around the Thanksgiving-Christmas holiday season.
Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, U.S. Central Command chief, and Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, recommended the early departure of the unit based upon conditions on the ground, Whitman said. Another U.S. brigade that was earmarked for deployment to Iraq recently was diverted for duty in Afghanistan.
Violence in Baghdad has drastically decreased, military officials said, compared to the level of violence experienced at the height of fighting in 2006, prior to the 2007 surge of forces. A total of 20 U.S. brigades were in Iraq during the surge.
The 2nd BCT, Whitman said, was scheduled to leave Iraq in January after serving 15 months of duty there.
In other Iraq news, Whitman said, senior U.S. officials have delivered to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki a draft document of the U.S.-Iraqi status of forces agreement that contains changes U.S. officials are suggesting. The draft in its present form, he said, contains legal protections for U.S. troops stationed in Iraq. Whitman said he wouldn't get into specifics of possible points of contention regarding the negotiations.
Whitman fielded another reporter's question about new reports of civilian casualties in Afghanistan allegedly caused by U.S. military actions. The United States, Whitman said, always takes measures to prevent the killing or wounding of any civilians during all of its military operations.
Regarding the pending transition of presidential administration at the Defense Department, Whitman said DoD continues to "lean forward" in preparing to welcome and assist President-elect Barack Obama's transition team. Whitman later led reporters on a tour of three newly renovated Pentagon offices that contain work space, telephones and other equipment suitable for the use of nearly 30 people.