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.
Up to 2,500 Marines will be brought back at a time, and there is no cap on the total number who may be forced back into service as the military helps fight the war on terror. The call-ups will begin in the next several months.
The number of troops in Iraq has climbed back to 138,000 — the prevailing number for much of last year. Troop levels had been declining this year, to a low of about 127,000, amid growing calls from Congress and the public for a phased withdrawal. Escalating violence in Baghdad has led military leaders to increase the U.S. presence there.
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.
The call-up comes as a newshows that the public has an increasingly dim view of the war.
Terrorism now tops the list of issues that most concern Americans and Mr. Bush has gotten a small boost in approval of his handling of the terror threat. But two out of three Americans still give Mr. Bush a low score on handling Iraq, and more people than ever, 62 percent, say the war is going badly, even though the president has been passionate in explaining why he believes the U.S. must stay the course.
Mr. Bush is also facing tough criticism and claims that the American people were misled about the war from a key supporter,
McCain, R-Ariz., a supporter of the war and a likely candidate for the GOP nomination for president in 2008, blasted the administration Tuesday for misleading the nation on Iraq, CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante reports.
"I think one of the biggest mistakes we made was underestimating the size of the task and the sacrifice that would be required," said McCain.
And that contributed to the frustration that Americans now feel about the war, said McCain, "because they were led to believe that this would be some kind of a 'day at the beach.'"