American soldiers who had been expecting to be sent home from Iraq soon have been told they will remain in the Gulf indefinitely.
No end in sight
The army announced that much of the Third Infantry Division is to stay in place due to ongoing attacks against coalition forces.
Soldiers - and their families - reacted with dismay to the news that they would not be home in September as they had hoped.
Britain's representative in Iraq, John Sawers, said UK troops would stay until elections had been held in Iraq - possibly next year - and that troops could stay longer if the new government needed them.
"Don't do that to us. Don't pull our heartstrings that way," one army wife said after being informed by e-mail that her husband's tour of duty had been extended.
Julie Galloway's husband, Sergeant Michael Galloway, was sent to the Gulf in November, the Associated Press reported.
The BBC's Jonny Dymond in Baghdad says it is very difficult to find a US soldier who likes being in Iraq.
Burdened by their equipment and armour in the heat, they know they are not welcome, he says.
Iraqis, too, will be disappointed that the US troops are staying, he says.
The commander of the Third Infantry Division, General Buford C Blount III, announced last week that two brigade combat teams - about 9,000 soldiers - would be returning to their home bases in the US by late summer.
But in an e-mail to spouses this week, he said they would be staying in place indefinitely "due to the uncertainty of the situation in Iraq and the recent increase in attacks on the coalition forces", AP reported.
An army analyst told BBC News Online that the US decision to keep the troops on the ground was guided by strategic necessity.
"The US are very determined to defeat the guerrillas," Phillip Mitchell of the International Institute for Strategic Studies said.
"That's the primary reason for retaining them - their knowledge and experience of the area," he said.
He said they would have to be rotated out by September or October - and that they would manage until then.
"I certainly understand their morale is going to be low, but they're professionals. They'll get over it," he said.
The announcement that the troops would stay on in Iraq came on the day India rejected a US request to send about 17,000 peacekeeping troops to the region.
India's security cabinet decided it could not support the mission without authorisation from the United Nations.
Some troops have been in the Gulf since last September
Also on Monday, US President George W Bush said he would consider sending a small number of troops to help peacekeeping in the West African state of Liberia.
Mr Mitchell said that, while US forces are somewhat overstretched, the Pentagon is "managing at extremes".
He said the US was less overstretched than the UK.
The Third Infantry Division was the first US unit to enter Baghdad, after having been deployed to the region last autumn.
It has suffered at least 36 casualties, more than any other American unit in the conflict.
It is now in control of the town of Falluja, where tension between Americans and Iraqis has been high.
Some 16,500 members of the division have served in the Gulf during the fighting - the vast majority of whom are still in Iraq or Kuwait.
Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita said the US still intended to bring the rest of the division home by autumn.