Report: Army could shorten combat tours
The Army is considering cutting the length of its 12-month combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, senior Army officials have told The New York Times.
Senior Army personnel officers, as well as top Army Reserve and National Guard officials, say the Army’s ability to recruit and retain soldiers will erode unless tours are shortened, to between six and nine months, roughly equivalent to the seven-month tours that are the norm in the Marine Corps, the Times reported in its Monday editions.
But other Army officials responsible for combat operations and war planning have significant concerns that the Army — at its current size and as now configured — cannot meet projected requirements for Iraq and Afghanistan unless active duty and reserve troops spend 12 months on the ground.
Officials told the Times it is too early to predict if or when a new deployment policy might take effect. But the proposal collides with the need to maintain troop strength in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Army planners say they must at least prepare for the possibility that it will be necessary to keep troops at the current levels in Iraq — 138,000 — through 2007, even though no political decision has been made in that regard.
The prospect of lengthy combat tours already appears to be affecting recruitment. The Guard had set a goal of 56,000 recruits for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, but is likely to end up with about 51,000, he said. It would be the first time since 1994 that the Guard has missed its signup goal, the paper reported.
“The Army definitely wants to reduce the stress on the force,” a senior Army official told Reuters news service. “Recruiting and retention are of concern. But we’re nowhere near the panic state.”
The official told Reuters that there was concern among some in the Army that this step could undermine units on the battlefield and that any change might be at least two years away.
“Shorter tours cause more turbulence,” with more soldiers in transit to and from the combat zones, the official said.
“It affects cohesiveness. It affects their ability to conduct their duty in a combat zone by knowing the terrain, knowing the enemy and knowing who is friendly. People come in and they’ll be looking to get out.”
About 40 percent of U.S. troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are National Guard and Reserve part-time troops summoned to active duty from civilian life, Reuters noted Monday.
In addition, the Army has issued “stop-loss” orders preventing tens of thousands of soldiers designated to serve in Iraq or Afghanistan from leaving the military if their volunteer service commitment ends during their deployment.
The Army last year began requiring its soldiers to serve 12-month stints in Iraq as Pentagon plans to scale back the number of U.S. troops there were scuttled by the reality of a tenacious and spreading insurgency.