ABC’s Jonathan Karl reports: The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit has just been told their time in Afghanistan is to be extended by 30 days, according to Marine spokesman Major Eric Dent.
The 2,200 Marines in the 24th MEU arrived in southern Afghanistan in March and had been due home in October. This extension will keep them in the war zone until mid-November.
This move comes after senior Pentagon officials — including the Chairman of the Joint Staffs and the Secretary of Defense — had said repeatedly that the Marines would not be extended.
When asked in early May whether he anticipated extending the Marines deployment in Afghanistan, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said:
"Well, I always hate to make categorical statements, but I — there is — no one has suggested even the possibility of extending that rotation. And — be loathe to do that."
The extension comes at the request of the NATO commander in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan, and as violence has been rising dramatically there.
In June, US military fatalities in Afghanistan nearly equaled those in Iraq and were the highest since the start of the war in 2001. The 28 American deaths in Afghanistan in June were one short of the 29 in Iraq, a country where the US has more than four times as many troops. There are currently 32,000 US troops in Afghanistan and 145,000 in Iraq.
But the casualty rates of NATO allies are also rising in Afghanistan. For the second month in a row the total number of coalition combat deaths exceeded those in Iraq, as 46 coalition service members were killed in Afghanistan compared with 31 in Iraq.
The Marines, however, say they are not surprised by the decision to extend 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit. "We always anticipate that we are going to be extended," Maj. Dent told ABC News.
The Marines typically serve six month deployments, with six months at home before possible redeployment. The Army recently reduced its average deployment lengths from 15 months to 12 months, and the Army then spends 12 months at home before potentially redeploying.
ABC’s Luis Martinez contributed to this story.