WASHINGTON — The Pentagon may be forced within several weeks to alert a large number of additional National Guard and Reserve troops for duty in Iraq, a senior general said today.
Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said more reservists could be called upon if other countries do not soon pledge thousands more troops to form a third multinational division in Iraq.
"We need to be making decisions about alerting reservists over the next four to six weeks," he said. "I would think that by around the end of October or the beginning of November we should be alerting those forces that may need to be called up to relieve or be prepared to relieve (troops there now) if we don't have specificity by then on a third" multinational division.
He said the Guard and Reserve troops should be notified about four months before they would need to ship out because they require some training time.
Separately, a defense official said the Pentagon's personnel chief, David Chu, has approved a new policy that will allow U.S. troops — both active duty and reserve — who are in Iraq on 12-month assignments to take 15 days of vacation at some point during their tour. Details are to be worked out by Central Command, the organization that runs military operations in Iraq, the official said. The official disclosed the Chu decision on condition of anonymity.
When it announced a troop rotation plan in July, the Pentagon assumed that it would have available a third multinational division of 10,000 to 15,000 troops to replace the Army's 101st Airborne Division early next year.
Britain is leading one multinational division and Poland is leading another. Among nations mentioned as possibilities for a third division are Turkey, Pakistan, India and South Korea, but none has agreed to do so.
Pace said U.S. Central Command, which is running the military operation in Iraq, may determine that it can find enough active-duty troops to fill any gap next year. But he indicated that mobilizing more National Guard and Reserve troops was an option under active consideration.
"The entire population of the active force of the Marine Corps and the reserve force of the Marine Corps, and the Army and the National Guard and Reserves will be looked at" for possible duty, Pace said in an interview with a group of reporters at a Washington hotel.
Some in the military are concerned that reservists are being asked to shoulder too much of the burden.
Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va., said today that few reservists were likely to have realized when they signed up that they would be used so heavily.
"It has to have an impact — a negative one — on retention," he said. "People's lives are being obliterated" by lengthy and sometimes frequent mobilizations for duty overseas.
In testimony today before the Senate Appropriations Committee, however, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said the Army has retained more than the usual number of National Guard and Reserve troops recently, although it faces "challenges" in recruiting more to join.
Of the 302 U.S. troops who have died in Iraq since the war began, at least 47 were National Guard or Reserve, according to an unofficial count. Twenty-one of the 47 were hostile deaths; 26 were non-hostile.
There are now about 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, including several thousand Guard and Reserve forces. Current plans call for mobilizing two National Guard brigades for duty in Iraq this fall. The Pentagon had hoped that it would need to activate no National Guard units beyond that, but Pace said more could be alerted within weeks for possible deployment.
"What is not clear now ... is whether or not what we thought two months ago about the security environment (in Iraq) is still a valid projection, and then whether the coalition countries will or will not come up with a third division," he said.
"There are many countries out there talking about it, and we have every hope that that will happen," he said, "but hope is not a plan."