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Army to extend Iraq combat tours of thousands of soldiers who were due to leave this month

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WASHINGTON — The Pentagon plans to extend the combat tours in Iraq of more than 10,000 soldiers from not only a Germany-based armored unit but also and a cavalry regiment from Louisiana, defense officials said Wednesday.

The move, which has not been officially announced, breaks a pledge given to all soldiers when they deployed to Iraq last year. They were told they would be kept there no longer than 12 months. The recent rise in anti-occupation violence in restive areas in and around Baghdad and in the south disrupted U.S. commanders' plans to reduce the U.S. force by about 20,000 soldiers this spring.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was fine-tuning the new plan and his spokesmen declined to discuss details.

Other officials said it would extend by at least three months the tours of soldiers from the 1st Armored Division as well as the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, who had been scheduled to leave Iraq this month after spending a full year engaged in combat and stabilization operations.

Fort Polk, the Army base in Louisiana that is home to the 2nd Armored Cavalry, issued a news release last Thursday quoting the regiment's commander, Col. Bradley W. May, as saying "elements" of his unit "will remain in theater longer than initially announced." He did not say how many soldiers were affected, but another official said Wednesday it would be about 3,000.

One squadron of the 2nd Armored Cavalry recently returned from Iraq, but the rest of the unit will remain.

The 2nd Armored commander did not say how much longer his unit would remain in Iraq, but other officials said family members were told the soldiers probably would be back at Fort Polk in about four months.

Welcome home ceremonies at Fort Polk, scheduled for this month, have been canceled.

A recent spike in violence has killed at least 83 U.S. troops this month as U.S. forces fight Sunni Muslim insurgents in the city of Fallujah, Shiite militiamen in the south and gunmen in Baghdad and on its outskirts.

In response, Bush said at a news conference Tuesday night that he has told military commanders to be prepared to use "decisive force" against insurgents and that he was ready himself to provide as many extra troops as U.S. commanders on the ground say they need to defeat the insurgents.