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WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Robert Gates will add about 22,000 soldiers to the Army in coming weeks in an effort to keep pace with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan without burdening the force with longer tours or shorter time at home.

The increase will raise the Army’s active-duty end strength to nearly 570,000 soldiers, the highest mark in 17 years. Gates said the move would last for at least the next three years.

"The persistent pace of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last several years has steadily increased the number of troops not available for deployment in the Army," he said. "The decision to eliminate the routine use of stop loss also requires [more personnel] for each deploying unit.

"The Army has reached a point of diminishing returns to reduce the size of its training and support tail. The cumulative effect of these factors is the Army faces a period where its ability to deploy combat units at acceptable fill rates is at risk."

The new troops will be used to ensure existing units already are properly staffed, and "not to create new combat formations," Gates said.

He estimated that the Pentagon will need about $100 million this fiscal year to pay for the move and another $1 billion in fiscal 2010, but he will not be asking Congress to add additional funds to next year’s defense budget already being debated on Capitol Hill.

Instead, he said, the money will be shifted from other programs, and will likely cause more "tough choices" in equipment and training funds.

Last week Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., offered an amendment to next year’s defense authorization bill allowing a 30,000-person increase in the Army’s end strength, calling it a critical step in managing the force.

House leaders have already included similar language for 2011 and 2012 in their version of the military budget bill. Army officials estimate as many as 30,000 of their current 547,000 may be in nondeployable positions, including those in training slots and troops recovering from their combat wounds.

But Gates said the 22,000 increase should provide relief for the Army, and the stress on the force represents only a temporary problem as the military draws down in Iraq and ramps up operations in Afghanistan.

In 1999, the service hit a recent low when it employed fewer than 480,000 active-duty troops, and in recent years lawmakers have pushed to build the force back up as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have strained both the active-duty and reserve components.

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