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WASHINGTON — The chairman of the House Armed Services committee worries that proposals announced this week for tour extensions and new National Guard deployments to Iraq will further damage Army readiness.

In a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on Tuesday, Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo., questioned whether those plans could be too draining for the Army, saying it is “under enormous stress and strain because of frequent deployments to Iraq.”

On Monday, the Pentagon announced that four National Guard brigade combat teams — about 13,000 reservists total — have been put on alert for possible deployment to Iraq as early as December.

Officials also said they are considering extending the tours for up to 15,000 U.S. troops serving in Iraq if the latest “surge” of U.S. forces is needed past this summer.

“I write this letter to you with the highest respect and affection for the American soldier,” Skelton said in the letter. “This is a sentiment that I know you share. But I must ask you, Mr. Secretary, where does this end?”

He added that he is concerned extending tours in Iraq will hurt the morale of both the troops and their families, and further hurt overall Army readiness, which he said has already been compromised by the pace of fighting overseas.

“Our non-deployed forces are facing serious readiness challenges as well,” he said.

Skelton asked for assurances that the National Guard brigades will be fully trained and prepared if they deploy, and have “all the equipment required for force protection and other mission essential tasks.”

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said he had not seen the letter, but said that all units being sent to Iraq are receiving appropriate preparation.

“The commanders in the field have made it clear that nobody is going to be asked to do anything they are not trained and equipped to do,” he said.

Earlier this week Pentagon officials said instead of tour extensions, some Army units may be rotated into Iraq sooner than planned. But they emphasized that both ideas are still just preliminary plans, and not definite actions.


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