Monday, July 5, 2004

The head of the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday said the Pentagon’s plan to recall more than 5,000 members of the Individual Ready Reserve does not indicate a need to bring back the draft.

“The answer is no,” Sen. John Warner, Virginia Republican, said in response to a question on NBC’s “Meet the Press” of whether the United States will reach a point where it has to reinstate military conscription.

He countered statements by retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who has said current deployment rates to Afghanistan, Iraq, South Korea and elsewhere “will break the U.S. Army in the coming two or three years.”

Mr. Warner dismissed that notion, recalling that he was secretary of the Navy under President Nixon when the draft was abolished in 1973.

“I can tell you the all-volunteer forces worked,” he said. “We cannot bring back a draft now and make some young men and women go into uniform and not bring in a whole lot of others to do different tasks.”

Debate over the matter has swirled since a New York Times report Friday said the Army is preparing to implement a rarely used program to recall soldiers who have left the service but did not join the reserves.

The program differs from conscription in that it draws not from any random pool of young Americans, but from a body of former service members called the Individual Ready Reserve.

The program was used similarly during the 1991 Persian Gulf war, and allows commanders to pull retired troops back to active duty in order to fill gaps where specific skills are needed.

The pool comprises those who had served overseas deployments, but then opted for an early retirement via honorable discharge before fulfilling all obligations agreed to when they first signed up for military service.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, a one-time member of the Individual Ready Reserve, said Friday that a military draft was not on the table.

“I just can’t imagine it,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.

Mr. Rumsfeld said the active-duty force of the military’s four branches is about 1.4 million people. If the National Guard, the Reserves and the Individual Ready Reserve are included, “we go up to somewhere over 2.3 million,” he said.

The defense secretary said the number of forces deployed within the responsibility area of U.S. Central Command, which includes Iraq and Afghanistan, is about 200,000.

“In terms of the need of the services, goodness no, we’re perfectly capable of increasing the incentives and the inducements to attract people into the armed services,” he said.

However, news of the ready reserve call-up raised questions about whether the Pentagon correctly calculated how many troops would be needed for the long haul in Iraq.

Samuel R. Berger, who served as national security adviser under President Clinton, said yesterday that the ready reserve call-up “reflects miscalculation at the outset.”

“In the Balkans, we had one peacekeeper for every six people,” Mr. Berger told NBC. “We have one peacekeeper for every 20 people in Iraq.”

He said the 5,600 ready reserves being called up are individuals who “have left the Army and they’re being involuntarily now called back.”

Mr. Warner noted, “Their contracts said that they were available to be called up.

“They fully knew it,” he said.

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