Maine’s top military official said Friday that it’s not his place to comment on President Obama’s plan to withdraw combat troops from Iraq by August 2010.
Major Gen. John W. Libby did, however, say that the announcement poses an interesting potential implication for Maine troops, specifically the 133rd Engineering Battalion, which is scheduled for a one-year deployment to Iraq in January 2010.
“I’m sure there are a bunch of [soldiers] wondering ‘Are we really going?’” Libby said in a telephone interview. “All we can do is prepare to be ready.”
The 133rd, Maine’s largest Army National Guard unit at about 500 soldiers, already completed a tour in Iraq in 2004. Four men died during that deployment and 43 soldiers were wounded.
Because the 133rd is an engineering battalion and not a combat unit, Libby said it’s more likely that the deployment would go as scheduled. Obama’s plan was to draw back combat troops by August 2010, but he was open to keeping noncombat troops in Iraq longer.
“The drawdown of troops in Iraq is not a surprise,” Libby said. “Nor will it be a surprise to see an increase in troops to Afghanistan.”
Along those lines, the Brewer-based B Company, 3rd Battalion of the 172nd Mountain Infantry is scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan in January 2010. That unit of about 170 soldiers spent a year in Iraq during 2006 and 2007, providing convoy security and force protection missions. That unit lost two soldiers when a roadside bomb exploded in May 2006.
Additionally, 82 members of the 286th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion deployed last month for a one-year tour in Afghanistan.
According to the U.S. National Guard Bureau, nine guardsmen either from Maine or attached to a Maine National Guard unit have died while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom.