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Pentagon May Call Up Additional Reservists

September 25, 2003|Esther Schrader | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon may need to call up thousands more National Guard and reserve troops over the next two months for duty in Iraq if other countries do not soon pledge soldiers to serve there, a senior military official said Wednesday.

Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said commanders managing the military operation may yet decide that they have enough active duty troops to fill needs in postwar Iraq. But he said that unless other nations send more soldiers, the use of additional National Guard and reserve troops is likely.

"We need to be making decisions about alerting reservists over the next four to six weeks," he said. "I would think that by around the end of October or the beginning of November we should be alerting those forces that may need to be called up to relieve or be prepared to relieve [troops there now] if we don't have specificity by then on a third" multinational division.

Speaking to a meeting of defense writers, Pace emphasized that the need to mobilize more reservists was by no means certain.

"There are many countries out there talking about [contributing troops], and we have every hope that that will happen," Pace said. "But hope is not a plan."

The Pentagon had assumed as late as July that a third multinational division of 10,000 to 15,000 troops would be ready to replace the Army's 101st Airborne Division in Iraq by January.

But the diminished prospect that such a division would be committed and ready by then is putting growing pressure on the Pentagon, already straining to muster the resources and troops to handle the military's commitments in Iraq.

A British-led multinational division has been in southern Iraq for months, and a Polish-led division took up duties in August. But none of the nations that Pentagon officials have talked to about leading a third division -- Turkey, Pakistan, India and South Korea -- has agreed to do so.

Pace's comments caused concern among officials with the reserve forces, already worried that the heavy use of citizen soldiers could have lasting effects on recruitment and retention. In the last two years, more than 212,000 reservists and National Guard troops have been mobilized for war overseas and the fight against terrorism at home, the biggest such mobilization since World War II.

"We've had one piece of bad news after another to share with families this year, and at some point it's got to take a toll," said one senior Army National Guard official who spoke on the condition that his name not be used. "Our people don't sign up to be full-time soldiers. If they did, they would join the regular Army."

The United States has about 130,000 troops in Iraq. Of the 302 U.S. troops who have died in Iraq since the war began, at least 47 were National Guard or reserve. More than 30,000 Guardsmen and 50,000 reserves are in Iraq, the largest battlefield presence of reserve forces since WW II.

The part-time soldiers were put under more pressure this month when the Army announced that about 20,000 reservists and National Guard troops stationed in Iraq would be required to serve a full year from the time they arrived there, extending their tours by as much as 11 months in some cases.

And during the summer, two Army National Guard combat brigades totaling about 10,000 troops were notified they each would serve a six-month deployment in Iraq next year.

That was the first call-up of a brigade-sized reserve combat force since the end of the Cold War.

Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, told the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday that the Bush administration is working hard to persuade other nations to supply more troops for peacekeeping and reconstruction work in Iraq.

"The situation is better than it was two months ago, it's better than it was four months ago, and it will be better two months from now," Abizaid said. "But it will be a slow process. It will be a dangerous process."

The Pentagon announced late Wednesday that in an effort to ease the burden on soldiers in Iraq, it would allow troops who are serving there a year or more to fly home for 15 days to visit family or friends.

Under the new orders, as many as 270 service members a day will be able to travel free from Iraq to airports in Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Los Angeles or Frankfurt, Germany, and then return when their leave is up. David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said travel beyond those points would be at service members' expense.

If the initial program works well, it may be expanded to accommodate as many as 800 troops per day, military officials said.



On reserve

The total number of National Guard and reserve personnel on active duty has decreased 8% during the last four weeks:

*--* Air NG/ Marine Coast Army NG/ Navy AF Corps Guard Reserve Reserve Reserve Reserve Reserve Total Aug. 27 131,996 5,401 27,381 18,267 1,898 184,943 Sept. 3 128,919 5,157 27,257 18,267 1,898 181,498 Sept. 10 128,568 4,749 25,513 13,767 1,806 174,403 Sept. 17 128,430 4,372 24,534 13,216 1,771 172,323 Sept. 24 127,746 3,957 24,424 12,567 1,771 170,465


Source: Department of Defense - Researched by Times graphics reporter Tom Reinken

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