WASHINGTON - A member of the US House of Representatives has demanded a full congressional investigation of allegations that the all-volunteer US Army was trying to coerce soldiers at the end of their contracts to re-enlist, threatening them with tours of duty in Iraq if they refused.
In a letter sent to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter on Monday, Colorado Democrat Diana DeGette asked him to find out if "White House or civilian Pentagon officials are pressuring the military to use coercive tactics to get soldiers to re-enlist, in order to maintain the force levels necessary to fight the war in Iraq and war on terror."
The request follows reports in leading Colorado newspapers that Fort Carson-stationed veterans of the Iraq war nearing the end of their eight-year enlistments were being threatened with a second tour in Iraq if they reject overtures by Army recruiters.
"They told us if we don't re-enlist, then we'd have to be reassigned," The Rocky Mountain News quoted one of the targeted solders, a member of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, as saying. "And where we're most needed is in units that are going back to Iraq in the next couple of months."
The paper said a Fort Carson spokesman had denied any threats.
But it quoted the unnamed spokesman as stating: "I can only tell you what the retention officers told us: The soldiers were not being told they will go to Iraq, but they may go to Iraq."
There was no immediate word whether the same recruitment strategy was being used at other US garrisons.
Calling the reports "disturbing," DeGette said US soldiers who had honorably fought in Iraq and were near the end of their service "should not be threatened with impressment."
She insisted the reported situation at Fort Carson was a reflection of a dangerous overextension of the US military that is experiencing acute manpower shortages due to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and other commitments abroad.
Of the Army's 33 combat brigades, 16 are already deployed in Iraq while the rest have other assigned missions or are kept in strategic reserve, DeGette pointed out.
While boasting to have met rectruitment targets for active duty units, top Pentagon officials acknowledged in July that recruitment for the Army National Guard, whose members are increasingly deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, was 12 percent below target this year.
Lieutenant General Steven Blum, who heads the guard, downplayed the seriousness of the situation by stating that "while we're a little bit off in our recruiting ramp, it's because we set that ramp very high."
Nevertheless, the issue is moving to the forefront of the November 2 election campaign, with critics of President George W. Bush insisting that if violence in Iraq continues to grow, the United States will be forced to reinstate the draft abolished in 1973.
In a widely publicized column distributed for Democracy for America, a political action committee, former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean said the Army was already borrowing from next year's recruitment quotas to meet this year's numbers.
"The only place to go for more troops is a draft," warned Dean, who is now an ardent supporter of Democratic nominee John Kerry.
Fears of a reinstated draft also are being stoked by a February 2003 Pentagon document, which said the structure and programs of the Selective Service System, an agency that keeps a registry of potential US recruits, "should be re-engineered ... with an added focus on identifying individuals with critical skills."
Secretary of State Colin Powell moved to dispel these concerns on Sunday, saying in a television interview that "there are no plans for a draft."
"At least President Bush has no plans for a draft," Powell assured, "nor is a draft needed."
© 2004 AFP