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12,000 more Guard may go to Iraq

MSNBC | April 6, 2007
Jim Miklaszewski

WASHINGTON - Coming on the heels of a controversial “surge” of 21,000 U.S. troops that has stretched the Army thin, the Defense Department is preparing to send an additional 12,000 National Guard combat forces to Iraq and Afghanistan, defense officials told NBC News on Thursday.

The troops will come from four Guard combat brigades in different states, the officials told NBC News' chief Pentagon correspondent, Jim Miklaszewski. They said papers ordering the deployment, which would run for one year beginning in early 2008, were awaiting Defense Secretary Robert Gates' signature.

The deployment is sure to ignite a firestorm on Capitol Hill, where Democrats in Congress are maneuvering to scale back the U.S. commitment in Iraq. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is pushing a proposal to end most spending on the war in 2008, limiting it to targeted operations against al-Qaida, training for Iraqi troops and protection for U.S. forces.

“I think this was all concealed until we got through the election,” said retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, a military analyst for NBC News. “There's no way to sustain the current rate of deployments without calling up probably nine National Guard brigades in the coming year for involuntary second tours.”

Gates did not mention the Guard deployment in a news conference Thursday at the Pentagon. Earlier this year, he revised Pentagon regulations to authorize more frequent Guard deployments to take some of the burden off the Army.

Surge timetable could be extended
Gates indicated Thursday that defense planners expected the U.S. military commitment to last well beyond the timetable of early next year that was put forth in the Pentagon's arguments to send more than 20,000 regular Army troops to help quiet sectarian violence. That so-called surge of troops created intense opposition among Democrats and some Republicans in Congress early in the year.

“The truth is, I think people don't know right now how long this will last,” he said. “The thinking of those involved in the process was that it would be a period of months, not a period of years or a year and a half or something like that."

In a radio interview Wednesday, Gates warned that limiting the administration could lead to “ethnic cleansing.”

“What we do know is if Baghdad is in flames and the whole city is engulfed in violence, the prospects for a political solution are almost non-existent,” he said in an interview with syndicated radio host Laura Ingraham.

Army under heavy pressure
The grinding pace of the war is clearly wearing down the Army.

Three Army combat brigades have just been ordered back into Iraq less than a year after they left, and two brigades that were headed for Iraq were unable to take their customary four weeks of desert training at Fort Irwin, Calif.

Defense officials said the quick turnaround could hurt overall readiness by leaving those troops unprepared for other missions.

“When you only have one year or less between deployments, instead of the two that you would like to have, you then do not train to what we call full spectrum,” said Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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