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U.S. Troop Buildup in Iraq Approaches 30,000

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The Pentagon is sending an additional Army brigade of 2,600 troops to Iraq, raising the number of soldiers approved for President George W. Bush's security plan to nearly 30,000, a senior defense official said on Friday.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates approved the early deployment of the Army's Third Infantry Division combat aviation brigade to support 21,500 combat troops being sent to quell sectarian violence in Baghdad and Iraq's Anbar province, the official said.

The brigade, which provides ground forces with a full complement of helicopters, had been scheduled to deploy to Iraq in early summer as part of a regular Army troop rotation, said the official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity.

But the brigade's deployment was moved up to May at the request of the U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, who told Gates that the airlift support was necessary for the buildup of U.S. forces in Iraq, the official said.

"(Petraeus) has identified a few new requirements and the secretary has taken a look at those and decided, yes, he should have those forces to be able to do that," the official said.

The Army brigade's deployment was first reported on Friday by the Boston Globe. An Army spokesman declined to comment.

There are about 140,000 U.S. troops already fighting in Iraq, where sectarian violence has thwarted American efforts to bring the four-year-old war to a close.

Bush approved a plan in January to send 21,500 combat troops to Baghdad and Anbar province to crack down on violence that has been characterized by U.S. intelligence officials as a civil war between Iraq's Sunnis and Shi'ites.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England told Congress this month that 4,000 to 7,000 additional support troops, including military police, would be needed to augment combat forces.

The numbers released on Friday show the Bush administration has already approved 7,200 support troops. The list includes the Army combat aviation brigade as well as 2,200 detention operations troops and another 2,400 combat and service support personnel.

News of the latest deployment came as congressional Democrats pushed legislation to end a war that is increasingly unpopular in the United States.

A Democratic plan to withdraw American combat troops from Iraq by next year passed a key test in the House of Representatives on Thursday. But the Senate failed to impose a similar deadline.

By David Morgan

Additional reporting by Peter Cooney.

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