Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Shortfalls may force US to recall reservists

Shortfalls may force US to recall reservists
By Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
Published: August 22 2006 23:44 | Last updated: August 22 2006 23:44

The Pentagon could recall thousands of reserve Marines to active duty to make up for shortfalls in volunteers to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The US Marine Corps on Tuesday said as many as 2,500 reservists could be forced to return to active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan at any given time. The Marines would come from a pool of about 35,000 reservists. Steven O’Connor, a Marine Corps spokesman, said the move was needed because the number of reserves – who have finished their four year obligation of active duty – signing up to continue serving Iraq and Afghanistan was declining. But he said the the Marine Corps was meeting its quota for enlisting new recruits.

The Marines last recalled reservists in 2003 during the first stages of the invasion of Iraq. The White House then authorised the recall of about 7,500 marine reserves, although only about 2,000 ended up serving on active duty. Mr O’Connor said the marines would serve about 12 to 18 months on active duty if recalled.

The decision to recall reserve troops comes as politicians in Washington increasingly debate whether the US can win the war in Iraq. President George W. Bush on Monday said he was concerned about the prospect of civil war in Iraq. His comments came just weeks after General John Abizaid, the top US commander in the Middle East, delivered a sobering assessment to Congress, saying Iraq could descend into civil war if the violent situation in Baghdad is not brought under control.

With low public support for the war, an increasingly number of Democrats, and some Republicans, ahead of the November Congressional elections are questioning whether the US is being drawn into a civil war. More than 2,900 US troops have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. The number of wounded has soared to over 20,000, with half of those injured so badly that they could not return to active duty., a group that tallies Iraqi deaths from media reports, estimates that as many as 45,000 Iraqis may have lost their lives in the conflict, although many experts say the death count is likely far higher because of the under-reporting of killings across the country.

Mr Bush on Monday acknowledged that the war in Iraq was “straining the psyche” of the American people. But he said it would be a “huge mistake” for the US to withdraw from Iraq prematurely. The military was hoping to reduce its troop presence to about 100,000 by the end of the year, but that now appears unlikely as troops battle to stem the insurgency, particularly in Baghdad.


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