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Pentagon to Extend Iraq Combat Tours

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WASHINGTON (AP) - More than 10,000 American soldiers who were to return this month to home bases in Louisiana and Germany will have their tour in Iraq extended at least three months to help combat the surge in anti-occupation violence, defense officials said Wednesday.

The decision, which has not been announced publicly, breaks the Army's promise to soldiers and their families that assignments in Iraq would be limited to 12 months. The affected soldiers already have been in Iraq for a year.

Welcome-home ceremonies at Fort Polk, La., scheduled for this month, have been canceled. In Baumholder, Germany, some soldiers' families have stopped marking the days off the calendar.

The top U.S. commander for the Middle East, Gen. John Abizaid, decided that the increase in violence was so threatening that he needed to have the extra firepower, officials say.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was fine-tuning the new plan Wednesday; his spokesmen declined to discuss details. They said it was possible that Rumsfeld would make it public on Thursday.

The tour extensions come at a particularly delicate moment. At least 87 troops have been killed in April, the deadliest month since they set foot in Iraq in March 2003. The number of wounded also has skyrocketed.

The advantage of keeping soldiers of the 1st Armored Division and the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Iraq for an extra three months - rather than bringing in an equivalent number from elsewhere - is that these soldiers have unmatched combat experience in Iraq.

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