The U.S. military on Saturday announced the first significant withdrawal of troops from Iraq since the surge launched last February. The departure of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, 5,000 soldiers in all, is set to begin on Nov. 27, and those troops will not be replaced, according to Rear Admiral Greg Smith, the official spokesman for coalition forces.
The withdrawing unit is equivalent to one of five surge brigades in Iraq, Smith said, and is a first installment on Gen. David Petraeus 's promise to Congress in September to withdraw the brigades by July, 2008. "The improved security situation in Iraq—brought about by the surge of operations, more capable Iraqi Security Forces and the courageous commitment by Iraqi citizens to oppose extremist violence—has made the redeployment of five combat brigades possible," Smith said. No additional withdrawls are being contemplated until well into next year, Smith said.
Col. David Sutherland, the commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, which is headquartered in Diyala province to the north of Baghdad, said his troops were handing over authority to units from the Army's 2nd Infantry Division, now stationed further north in Salahudin Province. The 3rd BCT's withdrawal should be complete by mid -December. Diyala, a mixed Shia and Sunni area, has been one of the most troubled provinces in Iraq, with insurgents increasing activity there as surge troops poured into Baghdad.
Sutherland said the redeployment would not mean fewer troops in Diyala. Instead, the actual number of U.S. troops in the province would increase by 2,400, as other units are shifted to Diyala from elsewhere in Iraq. Both Sutherland and Smith declined to specify where those additional troops for Diyala will come from, but it seems likely that some or all will move from Salahudin Province. Salahudin has had the fourth highest number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq this year, 62, compared to 117 in Diyala, 159 in Anbar, and 394 in Baghdad, according to Iraq Coalition Casualties. But since violence has slowed, in October and November, Salahudin saw 12 U.S. fatalities, compared to 7 in Diyala; only Baghdad had more.