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, Mr. 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.
Meanwhile, the military reported Friday the deaths of two more American troops. A statement said a soldier was killed by an explosion during fighting Thursday in a mainly Sunni province northwest of Baghdad, and a Marine died Wednesday in the western Anbar province.
The Marine's death was being classified as a non-combat incident and was still under investigation, according to the statement.
In other developments:A military panel found a 101st Airborne soldier guilty of three counts of negligent homicide but not guilty of premeditated murder in the deaths of three Iraqi detainees.Saadoun Hammadi, a longtime ally of Saddam Hussein and one of the most senior Iraq Baath party leaders who also served as a rare Shiite prime minister under Saddam has died in a hospital in Germany, a Baath party spokesman and the party's Web site said. Hammadi was released from a prison camp in Iraq in February 2004, after nine months in the custody of U.S. troops. He left Iraq for medical treatment in Jordan, Lebanon and Germany, but settled in Qatar in early 2005. He was believed to be suffering from leukemia.A roadside bomb exploded Thursday in eastern Baghdad, killing four U.S. soldiers and wounding two others, the U.S. military said. The attack began when one bomb went off as a U.S. unit was returning from a search operation in the mostly Shiite area, the military said. Moments later, a second bomb exploded, killing and wounding the soldiers.A coroner conducting an inquest into a U.S. "friendly fire" attack that killed a British soldier during the Iraq war said Friday the death was entirely avoidable. Oxfordshire Assistant Deputy Coroner Andrew Walker also criticized the U.S. military for failing to cooperate with his investigation into the incident. "I believe that the full facts have not yet come to light," Walker said as he began reading his verdict.House Democrats have pushed ahead with plans to set a September 2008 troop withdrawal deadline but suffered defeat on a more modest plan in the Senate. An attack against the top official in the Sadr City area of Baghdad, home of the Shiite Mahdi Army militia, has created tension in the ranks of militiamen, with some blaming a faction unhappy about cooperation with Americans, a local commander said Friday. Gunmen opened fire on the convoy carrying Rahim al-Darraji Thursday in eastern Baghdad, seriously wounding him and killing two of his bodyguards on Thursday, police and a local official said.A radical Shiite cleric on Friday calling on his supporters to resist U.S. forces in Iraq, and a local militia commander blamed an attack against the mayor of Sadr City on a faction unhappy about cooperation with Americans. "The occupiers want to harm this beloved (Sadr City) and tarnish its name by spreading false rumors and allegations that negotiations and cooperation are ongoing between you and them," Muqtada al-Sadr said in a statement read to worshippers by Sheik Haider al-Jabri. "I am confident that you will not make concessions to them and will remain above them. Raise your voices in love and brotherhood and unity against your enemy and shout 'No, no America.'"