The Pentagon has extended the tour of duty for US military personnel in Iraq. Reinforcements are needed to support the initiative against insurgents launched in January, says US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, who made the announcement: “I am announcing today a new policy intending to provide better clarity, predictability and sustainability and how we deploy active duty army forces. Effective immediately, active army units now in the central command area of responsibility and those headed there will be deployed for not more than 15 months.” As part of President Bush’s plan, the US military is in the process of boosting its force by 28,000. Gates later admitted, however, that US forces were now stretched as a result.
Meanwhile, the radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has accused Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of ignoring the demands of Iraqis by saying there was no need for a timetable for US troop withdrawal. Al-Maliki replied that his government is working to build up Iraq’s security forces so that the US-led forces can leave. Speaking in Washington, the US President added that setting timetables would undermine the security crackdown in Baghdad, which he said was showing signs of progress.