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US Troops On The March - Out Of The Army

A report released by the Congressional Budget Office recognized this dilemma, concluding that the active army would be unable to maintain current troop levels in Iraq "beyond about March 2004 if it chose not to keep individual units deployed to Iraq for longer than one year without relief". Indeed, the Pentagon will now be relying on reserve soldiers for combat missions, rather than for their traditional combat support roles. This state of affairs has a broad array of implications.
Middle East

Jan 10, 2004

US troops on the march - out of the army

By Erich Marquardt

In the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration likely planned on stationing United States troops in the country years after an established peace. US military interventions have traditionally been followed by a period in which US troops remain in the host country in order to influence future developments there. Even more importantly, interventions that take place in countries located in strategically vital regions give Washington the wherewithal to play a central role in the affairs of those regions. The invasion of Iraq in March of 2003 followed this trend, although not exactly in the manner that Washington policymakers initially hoped for.

Dispelling any notion that US troops were planning on leaving Iraq quickly, various Bush administration and Pentagon spokespeople stated early on that US troops would remain in Iraq for an indefinite period of time. As late as December, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard B Myers, assured that US troops were not planning on leaving Iraq any time soon: "It's going to depend on events over the next couple of years. It's to be determined."

Myers' suggestion that US troops will remain in Iraq until possibly 2006 was confirmed by recent comments made by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. Speaking with BBC Radio, Straw said that he had no idea when British troops were going to leave Iraq: "I can't say whether it's going to be 2006, 2007. It's not going to be months, for sure."

But while it was expected that contingents of US troops would remain in Iraq for years after the US occupation was completed, it was not expected that over 100,000 troops would be needed for this mission. The US military, which is composed of an all-volunteer force, is not suited to handle large-scale missions - such as this one - for long periods of time. As US Representative John Spratt of South Carolina warned late last year: "We are pushing the envelope. We are using our troops pretty much to their maximum utility."

A report released by the Congressional Budget Office recognized this dilemma, concluding that the active army would be unable to maintain current troop levels in Iraq "beyond about March 2004 if it chose not to keep individual units deployed to Iraq for longer than one year without relief". Indeed, the Pentagon will now be relying on reserve soldiers for combat missions, rather than for their traditional combat support roles. This state of affairs has a broad array of implications.

For one, by having such a significant amount of its forces stationed in one country, Washington has less leverage to deal with other world developments that may require a deployment of US troops. It also adds strain to US deployments in other strategically significant states, such as South Korea and Afghanistan. Even though stationing troops in the center of the Middle East gives Washington significant influence in the region, the amount of troops currently needed, in addition to the losses that they are enduring, is not desirable or sustainable.

As a result of the extra strain imposed on US forces due to the length of their deployments, it is becoming harder for the Pentagon to rely on an all-volunteer military force to handle the White House's foreign policy initiatives. Many soldiers in the military originally enlisted during times of relative peace and did not expect to be deployed for months at a time in the Middle East, let alone being placed in a country that is sending body bags and stretchers home on a daily basis.

This current reality has concerned Washington policymakers as there is a justified fear that troop retention rates will decline and that less individuals will sign up for military service. The idea of an all-volunteer military is now being tested in a manner not experienced before.

Lieutenant-General James Helmly, chief of the 250,000-member Army Reserve, told USA Today in the Fall of last year: "Retention is what I am most worried about. It is my number one concern. This is the first extended-duration war the country has fought with an all-volunteer force." Helmly assured that he and other Pentagon officials would be carefully monitoring retention rates in 2004.

There are a few principal reasons why Pentagon officials are concerned about troop retention rates. Even though National Guard and reserve troops were sent to the 1991 war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan, they rarely were deployed on the front lines, and were instead relegated to combat support roles. With the new troop deployment rotation planned by the Pentagon, these troops will serve on the front lines and will certainly see casualties among their ranks.

Additionally, the long troop deployments add quite a burden to the lives of National Guard and reserve troops since these soldiers usually have full-time civilian jobs and only perform military training one weekend a month and for two weeks in the summer. After spending many months away from their civilian jobs, getting reacquainted with the life that they left becomes difficult. While their employers are obliged by law to take them back once they return, they often find that their work opportunities suffer as a result of their extended time away.

Washington policymakers have drafted a number of plans to combat the possibility of decreasing retention rates. One policy decision, which went into effect at the start of 2004, prevents active duty and reserve troops deployed to Iraq and Kuwait from leaving the army before serving 12 months on the ground, plus another three months once they return from their tours. This order is aimed at preventing soldiers from retiring from the army as soon as they fulfill the duration of their initial commitment.

The other proposal that has been decided in Washington offers economic bonuses of up to US$10,000 to soldiers who are willing to reenlist in the army for an additional three years, and serve in Iraq, Kuwait or Afghanistan.

While these proposals may alleviate troop retention concerns, they may prove to be largely ineffective. The decision to prevent active duty and reserve troops from retiring from the military at the end of their original commitment is, in a way, similar to forced conscription. This was highlighted by Ted Carpenter, an analyst with the Washington-based Cato Institute, who told Reuters: "Clearly, if large numbers of personnel have their terms extended against their will, that violates the principle of volunteerism. It also suggests just how strained the military is in trying to provide for the Iraqi occupation plus all the other US obligations around the world."

The other proposal, that of providing financial rewards to soldiers willing to reenlist for an additional three years, also may have limited success. Associated Press writer Matthew Rosenberg, who interviewed US troops in Baqouba, Iraq about the proposed reenlistment bonus, wrote that the idea "evoked laughter from a few bored-looking troopers", one of whom said: "There's not enough money in the world to make me stay a month longer."

If Washington continues to fail in the pacification of Iraq, and therefore cannot reduce its current troop levels there, it will have to seriously consider how to resolve the present strain on US forces. Two primary options, such as pulling troops out of Iraq prematurely, or reintroducing conscription, are not at all desirable to the administration since the former could result in a dramatic blow to US interests, while the latter would open up a political hornet's nest.

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Published with permission of the Power and Interest News Report  http://www.pinr.com/ an analysis-based publication that seeks to provide insight into various conflicts, regions and points of interest around the globe. All comments should be directed to  content@pinr.com

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Hispanic recruits will fill the vacuum 09.Jan.2004 17:55

Flowerday

Why has Bush proposed amnesty to some 10 million aliens? My guess is that he wants to recruit many of them for his occupation troops. This way, he will not need to draft anybody to fill the ranks. Hispanics will be persuaded to enlist simply to obtain the benefits that a private gets. As another sweetener, they will obtain full citizenship after they have served their time in the milltary.

Could that possibly be the real reason for Bush granting amnesty to illegal aliens?