WASHINGTON - The National Guard and Reserve will take on more of the combat burden in Iraq next year, replacing some Army troops with a smaller, lighter and more mobile force equipped with fewer tanks and more Humvees.
Nearly 40 percent of the American forces in Iraq will be from the National Guard and Reserve after the Pentagon completes a massive swap of troops starting in January - up from about 20 percent now.
Three National Guard infantry brigades will go, at least two of them slated for combat duties.
Overall, the Pentagon's plan for replacing the 130,000 American troops in Iraq with a fresh contingent will shrink the force by 20 percent and result in a more mobile force, perhaps better suited to the guerrilla war that has been taking a sobering toll in U.S. deaths and injuries.
The first changes will be seen even before the newly designated replacement force gets there. A contingent of 5,000 soldiers in a combat team called the Stryker Brigade, from Fort Lewis, Wash., is training in Kuwait in preparation for duty in Iraq. They are equipped with a new, speedier, lightly armored troop carrier and sophisticated communications tools to enable soldiers to locate guerrilla threats.
The Stryker Brigade is likely to see action in the Sunni Triangle, the area between Baghdad, Ramadi and Tikrit where the resistance to U.S. forces has been deadliest.
"It is absolutely optimized for this kind of fight," said Lt. Gen. Richard Cody, the Army's deputy chief of staff for operations, who oversees the Army's provision of fresh forces.
Nearly 40 percent of the 105,000 troops in the new force will be National Guard and Reserve after the swap ends in April. That compares with about a 20 percent share in the current force of 130,000 troops.
And it won't be just Army reservists; the Marines plan to use about 6,000 of their citizen-soldiers.
The main replacement force will arrive over a period of about four months, from January through April. They will have two-thirds fewer tanks and Bradley armored troop carriers, trading firepower for mobility.