(AFP) – Mar 18, 2009
WASHINGTON (AFP) — Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the US Army will effectively end within two years the unpopular practice of forcing soldiers to serve beyond their enlistment date, in a break with the former Bush administration.
A stretched military had relied on the "stop-loss" provision to field troops for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan under George W. Bush's presidency.
Criticized as a "backdoor draft," the policy requires soldiers to remain on duty if their unit deploys within 90 days of the end of their military commitment.
"I felt, particularly in these numbers, that it was breaking faith," Gates told reporters after announcing the decision.
"It wasn't a violation of the enlistment contract, but I believe that when somebody's end date of service comes up, to hold them against their will, if you will, is just not the right thing to do."
About 13,000 soldiers are serving under the provision, double the number from two years ago.
The practice has been condemned by opponents of the Iraq war, including some veterans groups, and Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in the 2004 campaign blasted stop-loss as an injustice.
Hollywood used the term as the title of a film last year that portrayed a US soldier returned from Iraq who learns he must serve another tour.
The move came a day before the sixth anniversary of the war in Iraq, and the planned withdrawal of 138,000 troops from the country over the next two years helped pave the way for Gates' decision.
The defense secretary said the "surge" strategy under the previous administration, in which additional troops were deployed to fight insurgents in Iraq, dramatically increased the use of stop-loss.
Under the decision, the US Army would begin scaling back the practice and try to eliminate it completely by March 2011.
The Army Reserve would no longer mobilize units under the provision starting in August, and the National Guard would stop the practice beginning in September. The active duty Army would phase out stop-loss by January 2010.
Gates said the military would retain the authority to resume stop-loss but only in what he called "extraordinary" circumstances, involving soldiers with special skills.
He said he hoped to reduce the numbers of soldiers affected to "scores, not thousands."
Soldiers who are now serving extended tours due to stop-loss rules would be paid an additional 500 dollars per month as compensation, he said.
Gates said there was some risk to eliminating the practice, which he said was why he had given the Army time to phase out the policy. And he said the demand for large numbers of troops would be eased with the gradual withdrawal from Iraq.
"We will be drawing down in Iraq over the next 18 or 19 months, significantly more than we are building up in Afghanistan, in terms of the Army," he said.
Copyright © 2014 AFP. All rights reserved. More »