AP reported Tuesday that in response to a request from Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, the Pentagon is thinking of extending tours of duty by up to 120 days for up to 15,000 U.S. troops serving in Iraq." -- The request has not yet been approved, however. -- On Monday, as expected, 13,000 National Guard troops heard that they are to "prepare for possible deployment to Iraq, which would be the second tour for several thousand of them," in December and January; the units affected are "the Army National Guard’s 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, based in Little Rock, Ark.; 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Oklahoma City; the 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Indianapolis; and the 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Columbus, Ohio." -- A Christian Science Monitor piece published Tuesday took a closer look at issues surrounding reliance on the National Guard to fight the war in Iraq. -- On Friday, AP noted that "About 270,000 of the more than 347,000 Army Guard soldiers have served in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars." ...
SOLDIERS MAY BE IN IRAQ LONGER
By Pauline Jelinek
** U.S. considers extending tours **
April 10, 2007
The Pentagon is considering a plan to extend the tours of duty for up to 15,000 U.S. troops serving in Iraq, a defense official said Monday.
The idea is among options being considered in response to a request in the last couple of weeks by Gen. David Petraeus, U.S. commander in Iraq, said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the idea has not been approved.
Because Petraeus believes the troop increase President Bush announced in January has produced some momentum in fighting violence in Iraq, Petraeus wants to maintain troops at that level past the summer, the official said.
Defense officials are looking at the idea of a maximum 120-day extension for five active duty brigades that would otherwise come home in the coming months – four ground units and one aviation combat brigade totaling roughly 15,000 troops, the official said. The plan would have to be approved by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Other options also are on the table. The official declined to name them but others have said previously that sending some troops earlier than planned would be considered.
It was not clear Monday which brigades could be extended. A Fort Lewis Stryker brigade -- the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division -- has been in Iraq since June and is scheduled to come home in the next few months. Soldiers and loved ones have been waiting and wondering whether the unit might have to stay longer.
There are currently some 145,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.
Also Monday, officials said some 13,000 National Guard troops are receiving notice to prepare for possible deployment to Iraq, which would be the second tour for several thousand of them.
The orders had been anticipated, but the specific units were not announced until Monday. They are the Army National Guard’s 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, based in Little Rock, Ark.; 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Oklahoma City; the 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Indianapolis; and the 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Columbus, Ohio.
The Guard units would serve as replacement forces in the regular troop rotation for the war, and would not be connected to the recent military buildup for security operations in Baghdad, the Pentagon said.
One unit would deploy in December and the others in 2008, the Army said.
“They are receiving alert orders now in order to provide them the maximum time to complete their preparations,” the Defense Department said in a separate statement. “It also provides a greater measure of predictability for family members and flexibility for employers to plan for military service of their employees.”
The final determination on whether the Guard units will deploy will be made based on conditions in Iraq, officials said.
The troop alerts and word of possible extensions come as Bush and Congress wrestle over legislation that would set timelines for troop withdrawals from Iraq.
Bush asked for more than $100 billion to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan this year. Congress has approved the money, but the Senate added a provision calling for most U.S. combat troops to be out of Iraq by March 31, 2008. The House version demands a September 2008 withdrawal. Bush has said he would veto any legislation that includes such deadlines.
Republicans, who say they can uphold Bush’s veto, are trying to pressure Democrats into stripping out the contentious Iraq language. Republican leaders in both the House and Senate on Monday called on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to cut short the House’s two-week recess and return immediately to finish work on the bill.
“It should go without saying that our military leaders are in the best position to know the needs of our troops, and they have left no doubt that this funding is needed urgently,” the GOP leaders wrote.
Democrats say they are not budging and that Bush will have a bill before the end of the month. Pelosi, D-Calif., said in an interview Friday that she had no intention of cutting the recess short.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said that four years after the fall of Baghdad Iraq U.S. troops “desperately need a postwar strategy that recognizes the political situation on the ground and removes them from policing a civil war.”
--The News Tribune contributed to this report.
IRAQ DUTY STRETCHING NATIONAL GUARD
By Gordon Lubold
** The Pentagon announced Monday that 13,000 Guard troops will probably deploy to Iraq, starting next year. **
Christian Science Monitor
April 10, 2007
WASHINGTON -- For a National Guard wanting to help support the war in Iraq and Afghanistan yet fulfill its primary mission at home, new deployments may further test its ability to be everywhere at the same time.
The Pentagon announced Monday that Guard units totaling about 13,000 troops are being told they'll probably deploy to Iraq beginning next year. The announcement indicates that the administration is still leaning heavily on the Guard to sustain the mission in Iraq, and the expected deployments complicate the Guard's efforts to be ready for homeland missions. While Guard officials maintain their units are willing and able to help support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, critics are concerned that equipment shortages and the time needed for training and rest at home will strain the Guard's ability to respond to crises domestically.
"The president's new plan to follow up this ill-advised escalation by sending ill-prepared National Guard troops to Iraq is another misguided strategy neither our troops nor the American people can afford," Sen. Harry Reid (D) of Nevada said in a statement issued Friday.
The likely deployment of more Guard troops to Iraq adds another dimension to a picture of a Pentagon already scrambling to staff a war over which Americans are increasingly divided. Last week, Defense officials announced that two Army units with less than one year of "dwell time" at home would be required to leave for Iraq in the next few months.
Yet the Guard is dealing with its own specific issues. The National Guard Bureau at the Pentagon, led by Army Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, oversees each state's Guard unit and commits to state governors that at least half of the total force of 350,000 guardsmen are available at any time to respond to a national disaster. The Guard more than meets those requirements, says one Defense official.
However, it's contending with equipment shortages that are leaving 88 percent of units with less than half the equipment required to perform missions at home, according to a commission mandated by Congress to look at such issues.
In 2002, for example, four units had to provide their equipment to forces deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan. In 2005, 12 units had to do so, according to the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, citing National Guard Bureau data.
About 25,300 guardsmen are now serving in Iraq. The 13,000 guardsmen cited in the Pentagon's announcement Monday are stationed in four states: Arkansas, Oklahoma, Ohio, and Indiana.
Observers outside the Pentagon believe the Defense Department may need at least twice the 13,000 additional troops from the Guard to sustain the effort in Iraq.
Much of Senator Reid's concern is based on a March report by the commission, which made a series of recommendations about how the Guard and Reserve should be resourced and structured.
"The priorities of the states and their governors are not adequately considered in the Department of Defense's policy and resourcing decisions related to the National Guard, even though governors are, and likely will continue to be, the leaders of most domestic emergency response efforts involving the National Guard," the report said.
In January, General Blum testified that he had heard from governors who complained about the lack of availability of guardsmen when needed the most.
For example, Blum cited Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D), who visited her National Guard troops in Iraq but returned to find that a snowstorm had left more than 60,000 Kansans without power. "And she called me, and she said, 'You know, I don't have the engineer equipment and trucks and aviation I need to really take care of my own people right now,'" Blum recalled her telling him. "And I said, 'Governor, we share that concern.' "
Blum has done much "cross-leveling" of equipment and personnel -- mixing and matching both people and gear with other state Guard units to ensure they are whole. But without about $40 billion over the next several years, Blum has said he can't sustain the Guard.
"We have lost time, to be frank about it, and time translates to lives," Blum told the commission Jan. 31. "We really do need a strategy that will reequip the National Guard here at home."
Still, there is a flip side to deploying the Guard overseas: critical training, says Mark Allen, a spokesman for the Guard bureau. "They have skills that are very useful in all kinds of situations," he says.
Units who returned from Iraq and Afghanistan who were deployed to the Gulf region after hurricane Katrina could draw on their security-duty experience overseas when it came to restoring law and order after the storm.
"This training, this unit cohesion really helps you in our homeland security in critical situations, saving lives, and dealing with the public," he says.
But like the active force, the Guard can become burned out, too.
"The thing that nobody knows is when guardsmen are being asked to do too much," Mr. Allen says.
13,000 EXPECT ALERT FOR 2008 IRAQ TOURS
** Guardsmen from Oklahoma, Indiana, Arkansas could be called up **
April 6, 2007
WASHINGTON -- About 13,000 National Guard troops are expected to be notified soon they could be sent to Iraq around the first of next year, military officials say. The alert is expected to affect Oklahoma, Indiana, and Arkansas.
If the assignments to Iraq are ultimately approved by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, it would be the first time full Guard combat brigades were sent back to Iraq for a second tour.
The units would serve as replacement forces in the regular unit rotation for the war and would not be connected to the recent military buildup for security operations in Baghdad.
A senior defense official, who requested anonymity because the information has not been released, said Friday that four Guard brigades, or about 13,000 troops, were likely to be notified. Another military official confirmed the units would come from Oklahoma, Indiana and Arkansas, as well as one other state.
About two-thirds of the troops that would be affected have never been to Iraq, the defense official said. Smaller units and individual troops from the Guard have already returned to Iraq for longer periods, and some active duty units have served multiple tours.
The official said mobilization or deployment of the units would depend upon conditions on the ground in Iraq.
According to defense and Guard officials, the first Guard units could go as soon as late December, with others following over the next six months. They would be sent only if commanders in Iraq determine the troops are needed.
About 270,000 of the more than 347,000 Army Guard soldiers have served in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.