WASHINGTON - Faced with lengthy and gruelling deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan , the US army reserve is rapidly turning into "a broken force" and may not be able to meet its operational requirements in the future, its commander acknowledged in a memorandum made public.
The comments by Lieutenant General James Helmly were expected to raise new questions about the sustainability of the war in Iraq without reintroducing the draft or other forms of compulsory military service.
The United States has boosted its force in Iraq to 153,000 ahead of the country's general election scheduled for January 30.
Army reserve soldiers make up about 20 percent of the US contingent. Together with the National Guard, they constitute more than 40 percent of US ground force in the country.
Helmly's memorandum, dated December 20 and addressed to Army Chief of Staff General Peter Schoomaker, includes several recommendations on ways to address the manpower problem.
But it also contains scathing criticism of current military personnel policies and warns of dire consequences for the US military, if they are maintained.
The purpose of the memorandum, Helmly writes, is to inform top commanders "of the army reserve's inability" under current procedures "to meet mission requirements associated with Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom and to reset and regenerate its forces for follow-on and future missions."
The general goes on to say the danger troops would be unable to fulfill all their obligations was "grave," stressing that the 200,000-member reserve "is rapidly degenerating into a 'broken' force."
Helmly takes strong issue with the system of financial incentives used by the Pentagon to attract and retain members of the reserve, arguing that by paying deployed troop an extra 1,000 dollars per month, "we confuse 'volunteer to become an American soldier' with 'mercenary.'"
The practice of cobbling together combat units from "financially induced volunteers" is, in his view, "dangerous and irresponsible."
The memorandum, first reported Wednesday by The Baltimore Sun newspaper, was leaked in its entirety to the Internet later in the day.
A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed its authenticity to AFP. An official army spokesman declined to comment but did not dismiss the document, saying the Department of the Army was likely to comment on it Thursday.
The memo was certain to rekindle suspicions the growing Iraqi insurgency may force policymakers to re-institute the military draft, because the reserve chief lists among suggested remedies more coercive call-up practices within a pool of available candidates.
"Consequently, failure to use the inherent authorities of involuntary mobilization during this threatening period in our nation's history will set a difficult, dynamic precedent for future involuntary use of the nation's reserve components," Helmly writes.
Charges that the administration of President George W. Bush was resorting to "a backdoor draft" to supply manpower to Iraq figured prominently during the 2004 presidential election campaign, despite Bush's repeated assurances the army would remain "an all-volunteer force."
Several soldiers are suing the Pentagon over the so-called stop-loss policy that allows the military to one-sidedly extend their contracts to avoid depleting units.
Like the rest of the military establishment, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsefeld has not yet addressed the controversy.
But in at least two radio interviews this week, he pointedly mentioned the need to address the issue of "stress on the force."
Army Secretary Francis Harvey and General Schoomaker, Rumsfeld told WTKF radio on Tuesday, are in the process of "re-balancing" the active components of the army and its reserve "so that the stress on the force can be reduced, which is an important thing to do."
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