By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 18, 2007
The Pentagon this week plans to alert at least seven National Guard units to be ready for deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008 and 2009 as the military's reserve forces are increasingly called upon to relieve the strain on active-duty troops, officials said yesterday.
The call-ups are aimed at preparing forces to replace the approximately 13,000 Army National Guard troops in four brigades that will begin flowing into Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan over the next two months. In addition, they will help ease the burden on active-duty troops that has grown with the increase of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan this year, the officials said. Currently, there are about 170,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and 26,000 in Afghanistan.
"All the active component brigades have been used as part of the surge, and the requirements are not going away," a National Guard official said. "You create holes when you surge units forward, and someone has to fill them," said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the Pentagon had not yet alerted the units.
If Guard units are not called up as replacements, the Army will lengthen deployment times for active-duty soldiers beyond 15 months, or cut back their time at home to less than a year, the official said.
Officials declined to specify which National Guard combat brigades and other units would be called up, saying they want to notify families before an announcement. The plans to alert the Guard units were first reported by the Associated Press.
Meanwhile, a U.S. commander in Iraq said that the first of five Army brigades to be withdrawn would result from a shift in Northern Iraq where a brigade would expand its territory to cover a portion of Diyala province when another brigade leaves in December.
The National Guard troops will perform combat patrols, secure convoys and guard detainees, among other missions, officials said.
In January, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced that the Pentagon would lift some restrictions on Guard and reserve call-ups and allow some reserve units to be remobilized sooner than planned -- meaning more involuntary call-ups for individuals. Meanwhile, he reduced the length of the mobilizations for reservists to a maximum of a year at a time, in contrast to the 16 to 24 months that had become standard.
National Guard leaders welcomed the change, because it allows them to remobilize entire units, rather than calling up individuals from a variety of units in a piecemeal fashion.
Nevertheless, the 12-month cap on Guard deployments means that the Army can expect to have those units in Iraq or Afghanistan for about nine months, as they need time to train. That, in addition to other factors, makes it difficult for National Guard combat brigades to serve interchangeably with active-duty Army brigades, and has created new frustrations for Guard leaders.
Guard combat brigades heading to Iraq in coming months, for example, have not been assigned as single unit to patrol large areas but, instead, have been parceled out to perform many smaller missions under the command of active-duty units.
For example, the 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team of the Indiana National Guard was asked to break up into 21 security companies rather than to deploy as a unified force, a decision that hurts the unit's cohesion, said Maj. Gen R. Martin Umbarger, adjutant general of the Indiana National Guard. The Army has worked to keep the brigade leadership intact, even if the missions remain dispersed, Guard officials said.