Army to Use Fewer National Guard Troops in Iraq
Friday, July 1, 2005
The Army plans to draw far fewer reservists for Iraq duty in a new rotation of forces that has just begun, counting instead on active-duty soldiers to fill most of the deployment requirement, the Army's top officer reported yesterday.
Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army's chief of staff, said in Senate testimony that the number of Army National Guard brigades in Iraq will drop from seven this year to as few as two next year. In relation to the total number of troops, that would cut the share of Guard units from 41 percent to 11 percent.
"The Guard brigades will be down," the general told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The move comes not a moment too soon for the nation's community of formerly part-time soldiers, which has been badly strained by lengthy deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. With many of the better-equipped reserve units nearing a two-year maximum call-up limit declared by the Bush administration, Army leaders had warned earlier this year that they were running out of upper-tier brigades to send to Iraq.
Army officials said yesterday that the greater reliance on active-duty units has become possible as a result of the creation of new regular brigades, part of a major restructuring effort begun a year and a half ago aimed at increasing the number of active-duty brigades from 33 to at least 43, and making each more easily deployable.
The Army has also sought to shift into the active force more of the jobs that traditionally had been concentrated in reserve units but are in particularly great demand in Iraq, such as those of military police, civil affairs specialists and truck drivers.
The United States has about 17 combat brigades in Iraq, totaling about 135,000 troops. Senior U.S. commanders there recently affirmed the possibility of a reduction in overall troop numbers after the Iraqi elections scheduled for December, depending on the strength of the insurgency and the development of homegrown Iraqi forces.
Nonetheless, an additional 15 Army brigades and two Marine regiments are slated to go to Iraq as replacement forces. The rotation plan, which is spread out over the rest of this year and into the first part of next year, provides for some units to be held back if a decision is made to reduce the total U.S. force level, officials said.
The bulk of the new forces is scheduled to start surging into Iraq this October, when Iraq plans to hold a referendum on a new constitution. The troop flow is intended to continue through the December elections. This changeover will allow U.S. commanders to quickly boost the total number of U.S. forces in Iraq by simply delaying the exit of some units -- a move that was employed late last year during the previous rotation when the number of brigades in Iraq grew to 20 to cover the January elections.
Sen. Carl M. Levin (Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, noted in opening remarks yesterday that governors are concerned about whether they will have National Guard units that can respond to natural disasters. He worried that the forces are being worn thin, possibly endangering future operations.