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ARLINGTON, Va. — Despite lawmakers’ concerns that military forces have been stressed “nearly to the breaking point” by rotations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush administration has no intention of bringing back the draft, senior Pentagon officials told House members Wednesday.

Reserve soldiers, in particular, have been pushed “nearly to the breaking point” by rotations to Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, Missouri Rep. Ike Skelton, ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said in a Wednesday hearing about troop rotations.

The United States “has a moral duty to see our duty through in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Skelton said. At the same time, however, U.S. troops “are our most precious commodity … our sons and daughters. They are not pawns on a chessboard.”

“I’m worried,” Skelton said. “We’re asking very few to exert an enormous sustained effort for the good of all of us.”

Skelton characterized as “drastic measures” the steps the Pentagon has taken to man the ongoing rotations.

Those actions have included stop-loss provisions that have prevented deployed soldiers from voluntarily leaving the Army; repeat rotations for many active units, including the 3rd Infantry Division, the 10th Mountain Division and the 101st Airborne Division; surprise extensions of already year-long deployments for the 1st Armored Division and others in Iraq; and most recently, the involuntary call-up of 5,600 members of the Inactive Ready Reserves for the first time since Desert Storm.

But David Chu, undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, took issue with Skelton’s assertion.

“I would not call these measures a last resort,” Chu told the committee members.

As for the IRR call-up, “the fact that it is rare does not mean that it’s inappropriate,” Chu said.

Moreover, “the administration does not support a resumption of the draft,” Chu told committee members.

But Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., alleged that Democrats are working to convince voters otherwise in an attempt to influence the outcome of the November presidential election.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Weldon read from an e-mail he claimed “is being sent nationwide,” that he said insists that “Just after the 2004 presidential elections, as early as spring 2005, the administration [will] quietly try to get … two bills introduced to reinstate the draft, while the public’s attention is on the elections.”

Weldon angrily called the e-mail “political posturing … to scare college students.”

Chu moved quickly to repudiate the e-mail’s assertions, saying “there is no secret plan” to reinstate the draft.

The strength of today’s U.S. military, Chu said, rests on its all-volunteer nature, and “I cannot see the merit of replacing these fine volunteers with people who don’t want to volunteer.”

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has also repeatedly insisted that he has no intention of reinstating the draft, Chu said.


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