The number of U.S. troops in Iraq has climbed back to 138,000, driven up in part by the need to control the escalating violence in Baghdad and the decision to delay the departure of an Alaska-based Army brigade.
The increase comes as the U.S. Marine Corps is preparing to order thousands of its troops to active duty in the first involuntary recall since the early days of the war.
No more than 2,500 Marines will be recalled at any one time, but there is no cap on the total number who may be forced back into service in the coming years as the military helps fight the war on terror. The call-ups will begin in the next few months, and most of the Marines are expected to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Troop levels in Iraq had been declining, from about 138,000 for much of last year to a low of about 127,000 earlier this summer, amid growing calls from Congress and the public for a phased withdrawal. Part of the latest increase is due to the overlap of units that are currently moving in and out of Iraq. But much of it comes from the decision late last month to delay the departure of the 172nd Stryker Brigade for four months. The brigade had served its one-year deployment and was beginning to head home to Alaska, but was instead ordered into Baghdad.
This is the first time the Marines have had to use the involuntary recall since the beginning of the Iraq combat. The Army, meanwhile, has issued orders recalling about 10,000 soldiers so far, but many of those may be granted exemptions.
Marine Col. Guy A. Stratton, head of the manpower mobilization section, estimated there is a shortfall of about 1,200 Marines needed to fill positions in upcoming deployments.
"Since this is going to be a long war," said Stratton, "we thought it was judicious and prudent at this time to be able to use a relatively small portion of those Marines to help us augment our units." Some of the military needs, he said, include engineers, intelligence, military police and communications.
As of Tuesday, nearly 22,000 of the 138,000 troops in Iraq were Marines.
The call-up will affect Marines in the Individual Ready Reserve, a segment of the reserves that consists mainly of those who have left active duty but still have time remaining on their eight-year military obligations.
Generally, Marines enlist for four years, then serve the other four years either in the regular Reserves, where they are paid and train periodically, or in the Individual Ready Reserve. Marines in the IRR are obligated to report only one day a year but can be involuntarily recalled to active duty.
To date, about 5,000 Army IRR soldiers have mobilized, and about 2,200 of those are currently serving, according to Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, an Army spokesman. Of those 2,200, about 16 percent are volunteers, he said. A typical Army enlistment obligation is also for eight years.
According to Stratton, there are about 59,000 Marines in the IRR, but the Corps has decided to exempt from the call-up those who are either in their first year or last year of reserve status. As a result, the pool of available Marines is about 35,000.
The deployments can last up to two years, but on average would be 12 to 18 months, Stratton said. Each Marine who is being recalled will get five months to prepare before having to report.
President Bush authorized the recall on July 26. It is the first such recall since early 2003, when about 2,000 Marines were involuntarily activated for the initial ground war in Iraq.
© 2006 Associated Press