Guard time off to be cut short

February 22, 2007|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon plans to send more than 14,000 National Guard troops back to Iraq next year, shortening their off-duty time to meet the demands of President Bush's buildup, Defense Department officials said yesterday.

National Guard officials told state commanders in Arkansas, Indiana, Oklahoma and Ohio last month that while a final decision had not been made, veteran units from their states could be designated to return between January and June of next year, the officials said.

The unit from Oklahoma, a combat brigade with one battalion in Afghanistan, had not been scheduled to go back to Iraq until 2010, and brigades from the other three states not until 2009. Each brigade has about 3,500 soldiers.

The accelerated timetable illustrates the cascading effect that the White House plan to increase the number of troops in Iraq is putting on the Army and in particular on reserve forces, which officers predicted would face severe challenges in recruiting, training and equipping their forces.

It also highlights the political risks of the White House's Iraq strategy. Sending large numbers of reservists to Iraq in the middle of next year's election campaign could drive up casualties among part-time soldiers in communities where support for the administration's approach in Iraq is tenuous, according to opinion polls.

A final decision on whether the additional Guard units will be required next year in Iraq will not be made for months, the officials said, and the full extent of the Guard role next year will depend on whether the situation in Iraq improves in the meantime.

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