WASHINGTON -- The Defense Department has decided to call up major combat units from the reserves totaling thousands of men to join the force in the Persian Gulf in the next few months, administration officials said.
The Pentagon decision came after Congress, just before adjourning, quietly doubled the limit on active-duty service for combat reservists to 360 days.
The reservists are expected to be among as many as 100,000 additional troops the Pentagon has said it will send to the gulf in coming weeks, and the reservists could be on the front lines early next year, Defense Department officials said.
Congress extended combat reservists' 180-day call-up limit to 360 days, allowing sufficient time to train them. The move angered some lawmakers, who argued that if the Bush administration had believed the units were needed, it should have declared a national emergency, which would have extended the call-up to two years.
While the call-up provision quieted some congressional critics of the Pentagon, other lawmakers were angry at how the extension was slipped into the 1991 military spending bill at the 11th hour last week with virtually no debate.
The proposal was not included in either the House or Senate version of the spending bill, but ended up in the final compromise conference report after Rep. John P. Murtha, D-Penn., who heads the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee, had the measure inserted.
"It was not subjected to any public review or hearings as to its implications," Sen. Sam Nunn, the Georgia Democrat who heads the Armed Services Committee, said in the Senate last week.
Mr. Nunn criticized the administration for, in essence, shifting the onus of the call-up extension to Congress when the action could have been taken through existing executive authority.
The president has the authority to mobilize up to 1 million troops for two years by declaring a national emergency.
More than 34,000 reservists have already been mobilized to perform military support roles in the United States and in the gulf region.
Depending on the deployment schedule, Army officials said, the reservists could be sent as early as next year.
Some senior Army officials and field commanders in Saudi Arabia have expressed reluctance to use combat reserves for fear they might not be battle ready.