Kerry says more call-ups planned

Democrat claims Bush tried to hide deployment until after the election

Election 2004

September 18, 2004|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry accused President Bush yesterday of hiding the prospect of additional call-ups of National Guard and Reserve forces until after the November election, a charge that was immediately dismissed by the Pentagon and the Bush campaign.

"He won't tell us what congressional leaders are now saying, that this administration is planning yet another substantial call-up of reservists and Guard units immediately after the election," Kerry said during a stop in New Mexico. "Hide it from people through the election, then make the move."

Pentagon officials denied that there were plans to call up more troops than previously announced, and a Bush political aide denounced the charge.

"John Kerry's conspiracy theory of a secret troop deployment is completely irresponsible," said Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt. "John Kerry didn't launch this attack when he spoke to the National Guard because he knows they know it is false and ridiculous."

Kerry did not elaborate on his allegation, but a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts senator, Allison Dobson, later said that her boss was relying on comments from a Pennsylvania Democratic congressman who made a similar charge yesterday.

Rep. John P. Murtha, the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, said in a statement that Pentagon officials had told him that, beginning in November, the administration "plans to call up large numbers of the military Guard and Reserves, to include plans that they previously had put off to call up the Individual Ready Reserve."

The statement offered no details, and attempts to reach Murtha for elaboration were unsuccessful. However, a congressional staffer said Murtha's statement related to the previously announced call-up of about 5,600 members of the Individual Ready Reserve, from which the Army hoped to obtain more than 4,000 fresh troops.

The staffer said additional call-ups may, indeed, be needed since the military was experiencing difficulties raising the necessary number of soldiers from the IRR, a little-used pool of reservists who are being activated as replacements for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. About half the needed number have been contacted, and efforts to reach the remainder would continue into early December, Army officials said yesterday.

"They thought they'd get 4,000," said the aide, who requested anonymity. "We understand the take rate is 40 [percent] to 50 percent." As a result, more National Guard, Army Reserve or IRR troops might have to be called up to fill the gaps, the staffer said.

The Army's Human Resources Command in St. Louis said in June that it would call up 5,600 IRR members in an effort to get the 4,400 troops it needed for Iraq and Afghanistan duty. The reservists are needed for support jobs, such as truck drivers and mechanics, and will spend a year overseas.

"We're going to mobilize 5,600 to make sure we get everybody we need to fill that 4,400," Robert Smiley, a Pentagon official, said at the time. "We anticipate there will be health problems, there will be personal problems, there will be training problems. ... Some of these soldiers may not be able to serve on active duty."

Yesterday, a spokeswoman at the command said about one-third of the 3,667 who have been notified to mobilize for active duty have requested exemptions from service. The estimated 2,000 who have not been contacted will receive notification between now and December, the spokeswoman said.

If the congressional aide's interpretation of Murtha's statement is accurate, and Kerry's charge relied entirely on what Murtha said, the number of additional troops that might face call-up as the result of a shortfall is about 1,000.

The third rotation of active and part-time U.S. forces into Iraq is expected to begin toward the end of the year, with the overall troop strength to remain at about 140,000, officials said. More than 40 percent of those soldiers are to be drawn from the National Guard and Reserve.

Kerry, in his speech yesterday, also portrayed the president as out of touch with the reality of the war on the ground. "With all due respect to the president, has he turned on the evening news lately? Does he read the newspapers?" Kerry said. "Does he really know what's happening? Is he talking about the same war that the rest of us are talking about?"

Kerry said the president is avoiding hard truths about troop casualties, new insurgencies and troop shortages. "He doesn't tell us that with each passing day, we're seeing more chaos, more violence, more indiscriminate killings.

"He won't tell us that the Pentagon itself has reported that entire regions of Iraq are now in the hands of terrorists and insurgents where they weren't before," Kerry said. "He won't tell us that, day by day, we're running out of soldiers and that we've now resorted to a backdoor draft of our reservists and our National Guard."

Kerry's comments were echoed by the top Democrat in the House, who said the president should "stop being in denial" about escalating problems in Iraq.

"It's clear that this administration didn't know what it was getting into, or else they grossly misrepresented the facts to the American people," said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. "In either case, staying the course is not an option."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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