The Army is considering shortening tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, but may face a dilemma between encouraging recruiting and keeping front-line positions adequately manned.
The New York Times reports that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld recently asked the Army to consider why its tours of duty, at 12 months, are longer than the Marine Corps' 7-month tours. Army personnel officers are thinking about reducing the tours in Iraq and Afghanistan to six- to nine-months.
The length of service in combat zones might be hampering Army National Guard recruiting efforts, which are on track tofor the first time since 1994, taking in 51,000 rather than the target 56,000.
Personnel officers tell The Times that recruiting is likely to suffer more and more if tours are not shortened.
"All the Army leadership agrees that 12 months is too long," Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told The Times. "We need to move to a shorter rotational base."
However, Army commanders are worried that shorter tours will deplete manpower in combat zones. That is especially worrisome in Iraq, where commanders say an offensive will soon be needed to regain control of areas taken over by insurgents.
Overall American forces in Iraq now number 135,000.
CBS News Correspondent David Martin reports Pentagon officials say a major rotation of troops scheduled for January has been designed to make it possible toin time for the Iraqi elections.
No decision has been made yet, but if the units that the incoming troops are scheduled to replace have their tours of duty extended, the U.S. will have three additional combat brigades – about 15,000 troops – on hand during the Iraqi elections.
Pentagon officials say the potential for a temporary increase in combat power is one of the reasons both the United States. and Iraq's prime minister are insisting elections be held in January.
Rumsfeld wants the elections to be on time even if they can't be held in parts of the country controlled by insurgents.
That would raise questions about the legitimacy of the results, and on Friday, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage contradicted Rumsfeld, telling a House committee all Iraqis must have the chance to vote.
"I think we're going to have these elections in all parts of the country," Armitage said.
Gen. John Abizaid, the American commander responsible for insuring the elections are both on time and legitimate, has already said he needs more troops but wants them to be Iraqis, equipped and trained by the U.S.
Last April, after several Iraqi units performed poorly in combat, the U.S. increased its troop strength from 115,000 to the current 135,000.