Pentagon plans to add reservists to Iraq force

As many as 30,000 troops could supplement Guard

October 22, 2003|By Craig Gordon | Craig Gordon,NEWSDAY

WASHINGTON - After failing to attract large numbers of foreign peacekeepers to Iraq, the Pentagon is drawing up plans to rotate in as many as 30,000 more reservists early next year, despite growing worries in Congress about strains on the force, defense officials said yesterday.

These troops would join three 5,000-strong Army National Guard brigades already in line to go to Iraq as part of an expected yearlong rotation to replace U.S. troops now in Iraq. U.S. Marines also may be sent back into Iraq by February to ease the burden on overstretched Army forces that normally shoulder U.S. peacekeeping duties.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld refused to discuss yesterday how many more reservists might be needed next year, saying no final decisions had been made. But other defense officials described the planning for a reserves call-up on condition of anonymity.

The planning comes amid growing unease on Capitol Hill about the stresses put on reserve forces by the war on terrorism, and questions over whether the Bush administration adequately foresaw just how many U.S. troops would be needed in Iraq, and for how long.

Republicans and Democrats in Congress have told Pentagon officials at repeated hearings about complaints they hear from National Guard and reserve families about the strains of extended deployments. Some reservists now in Iraq had expected to be there for several months but have seen their tours of duty extended to 12 to 15 months.

"We're stretched as far as we can. You need more people," said Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican who has sponsored efforts to add 10,000 active-duty troops, which the Pentagon opposes.

But defense officials acknowledge that they have little choice but to lean on the reserve units, mainly because of the failure to attract foreign troops and because U.S. Army active-duty forces already are stretched thin by worldwide deployments.

To ease the frustration, commanders say they will be more clear when mobilizing reservists about how long they can expect to be gone from jobs and families.

"We want to make sure that we give them timely notification so their families, their employers, and themselves can get ready for this," Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said yesterday.

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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