The Army will substantially reduce use of the unpopular practice of holding troops beyond their enlistment dates and will pay $500 to those still forced to stay in the service, defense and congressional officials said Wednesday.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates was expected to announce later Wednesday that he had approved the plan for cutting the use of so-called "stop loss" except in extraordinary circumstances, The Associated Press has learned.
Some critics have called "stop-loss" a backdoor draft because it keeps troops in the military beyond their retirement or re-enlistment dates. But the military has said it's a necessary tool to keep unit cohesion in times of war and to keep soldiers with certain skills needed in those units.
Under the plan approved by Gates, the Army Reserve in August will begin mobilizing units that don't include stop-loss soldiers and the Guard in September will do the same, a senior Army official said on condition of anonymity because the announcement had not been made.
The active duty Army is to deploy its first unit without stop-loss in January, he said.
Rep. John Murtha said Wednesday that the military also has agreed to begin $500 monthly payments to troops still forced to stay in service beyond their retirement or enlistment terms.
"I have said repeatedly that stop-loss is little more than a backdoor draft, disrupting the lives of our service members and their families," Murtha said in a statement
Though the practice has been virtually ended in the other service branches, the Army said it still needed to use it because of the severe strain it has is under to find troops for the two ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
There are currently some 13,000 troops being held beyond their exit times.
According to Pentagon documents obtained by the Associated Press, the intent is to cut the number of stop-loss soldiers in half by sometime next year, and to eventually stop the use of the program when it is feasible.
One official said they believe they can gradually reduce the number of stop-loss soldiers because of the drawdown in Iraq, because the Army has grown and because they are changing the way new units rotate - something that gives units scheduled for combat more time to get the people with the skills they need as opposed to holding in service soldiers who have that skill.