U.S. National Guardsmen and reservists are having their tours of duty extended to 12 months, defense officials said yesterday, as U.S. commitments to Iraq, the global war on terror and other missions around the world have stretched U.S. forces.
With active-duty troops already being held longer than expected in Iraq, officials ordered that Army Guard and Army Reserve troops now in Iraq and surrounding countries serve 12-month tours instead of the typical six months.
The new order, signed Friday night and not publicly announced, covers about 20,000 people and means some of them will remain months longer than they thought they would, officials said. The order was first reported by The Washington Post in yesterday’s editions.
There are about 140,000 Americans in Iraq and more than 40,000 more in Kuwait, Qatar and so on. Only a relative smattering of troops from other nations have been deployed to help the Americans and approximately 11,000 British troops because a number of countries refuse to contribute soldiers unless the United States cedes greater authority in Iraq to the United Nations.
The subject of U.S. troop rotations has been sensitive in the Iraq campaign, with some active-duty soldiers and their families complaining bitterly about homecoming delays. Members of the 3rd Infantry Division, for instance, fought their way to Baghdad in late March and were told they’d be going home, only to remain in Iraq for months afterward because of continuing problems the coalition has encountered in ending the violence there.
The extended tours may not be any more welcome among guardsmen and reservists, called “citizen soldiers” because they have civilian jobs they must be away from while they serve in the military. Currently, there are 181,500 on duty from all services, including some 129,000 in the Army National Guard and Army Reserve. They serve overseas as well as on homeland-security missions.
Under an order signed by President Bush three days after the September 11 attacks, up to 1 million Guard and Reserve troops can be called to serve for up to two years. Since then, roughly 300,000 people have been activated, some finishing their duty and going back to civilian life.
Officials said the guardsmen and reservists mobilized for Iraq are still needed there to augment active-duty troops in skills across the spectrum, including as military police, civil-affairs officers and other specialists.
Earlier in the summer, the Pentagon spent weeks struggling to come up with a troop-rotation plan because the Army has become so stretched during the Bush presidency, with major commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq in addition to peacekeeping in Bosnia and Kosovo and long-standing deployments in South Korea, Japan, Germany and the Sinai Peninsula.
The Army, the largest of the armed services, has had portions of every major active-duty combat unit committed to either Iraq or Afghanistan, with the exception of the 2nd Infantry Division, which is in Korea.
In announcing the rotation plan in late July, officials said units that went to Iraq next were to serve one-year tours, with a few exceptions. One exception was the National Guard, whose members will serve six-month tours.
In other words, Friday’s order applies only to troops already in-theater and not those scheduled to deploy in coming months.