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Ala. Guard unsure of impact of Bush's plan

By Jay Reeves
Associated Press Writer

BIRMINGHAM — No Alabama National Guard units were included in the first wave of troops announced Thursday to implement President Bush's plan to increase U.S. military strength in Iraq, but officials said the new strategy could still affect the state force.

More than 1,000 Alabama Guard members are currently in the region, and about 6,000 members of the state force have gone to Iraq or neighboring Kuwait since 2003.

After Bush revealed plans to increase the U.S. presence in Iraq by some 21,500 combat troops, the Pentagon said it will recall to duty sooner than planned some Guard and Reserve troops who already have served a year in Iraq or Afghanistan.

No units from Alabama were selected for additional service in the Gulf. But Lt. Col. Robert Horton said that could change.

"The bottom line right now is we don't know how this new strategy in Iraq will affect the Alabama National Guard," said Horton, a Guard spokesman. "We could receive word in the near future to start preparing units" or extend tours of units already in the war.

Two Alabama units with about 40 members total already are awaiting deployment in February and March, and four more units with about 600 troops total have received orders to be on alert. All six units received their orders before Bush's speech, Horton said.

"Right now we're just continuing to prepare our units that are on alert for mobilization," he said. "We have seven units deployed in support of operations in Iraq, and that involves about 1,100 people."

Horton said only one Alabama Army Guard unit has been to the Mideast more than once since the war began. The 226th Area Support Group went to Kuwait in 2003 and again last year after volunteers stepped forward for the duty, he said.

The Montgomery-based 187th Fighter Wing has been on three shorter deployments for the Air National Guard, he said.

Alabama troops stationed in Iraq are primarily providing security for convoys and Iraqi police stations or guarding high-ranking officials of the Iraqi government.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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