Army troops who had expected to spend one year in Iraq and Afghanistan learned yesterday that their military service would be extended to 15 months, a strategy that Defense Secretary Robert Gates says is necessary to sustain the recent troop surge and quell violence in both countries.
Gates made the announcement during a press conference at the Pentagon Wednesday. The new 15-month tours of duty were an obligatory supplement to the changing military strategy issued by President Bush, which called for more than 20,000 extra troops to serve in the Middle East.
Gates told reporters he realized the Army was already overstretched and burdened by the recent changes, but that the lengthened tours were a better alternative than shortening the relief period that active-duty units get to spend at home with their families. According to the Washington Post the extension will affect more than 100,000 soldiers and will require troops to serve tours of duty just as long as the tours served by soldiers in World War II.
Though the new policy was somewhat of a foregone conclusion, many are incensed by Gates’ announcement, claiming that extended military service in the Middle East is not the kind of sacrifice that should be required of an all-volunteer Army. But others view the policy as a necessary tactic to ensure peace in the region.
“First, troops who thought they were going home aren’t. Second, the Iraq war isn’t WWII. These tours are being extended for a war that no longer makes any sense (if it ever made any sense at all) and that is unwinnable. The troops are being sent not into a necessary and noble war but into an occupation of a country that has had more than enough of the occupation, an insurgency against that occupation, and a sectarian civil war that is going from bad to worse,” said Michael J.W. Stickings of the Reaction. “The American people — and particularly those with loved ones fighting Bush’s disastrous war, risking their lives for a lost cause — should be pissed off at this.”
Agreeing with Stickling, Xsociate of State of the Day argues that both extended tours and the troop build-up will not curb violence or ensure democracy in Iraq. “Can we please drop the pretense that this so-called ‘surge’ is anything but an escalation? I mean seriously, how many indicators do we need before this administration will finally admit they lied about [the] size and duration of this ‘surge’?” said Xsociate. “These extensions come on the heels of reports that more troops are being sent than originally claimed. In order to maintain this increase, they are sending back sometimes severely injured soldiers or shortening the length of time they have back home. Some brigades are looking at their fifth deployment there. We keep getting happy talk about how well the ‘surge’ is working, despite the fact that April is on track to be one of the deadliest months since the fall of Baghdad.”
While bloggers are reacting to the announcement, soldiers whom the new policy affects have also decided to respond. Many have sent emails to ABC News — albeit anonymously.
“Twelve months is hard enough. Missing two Christmases — or two Thanksgivings, or two Fourths of July — is almost asking more than we have a right to ask of an all-volunteer force,” said one soldier who had served a one-year tour of duty.
But another soldier said that extended military service was necessary. “Although the ramifications of extending the tours is most traumatic to the family, I (and I think 80 percent at least of other soldiers would agree with this) believe that this is a fight that we can and must win. If given the choice between losing with shorter tours and winning with longer tours, I would be willing to stay longer,” wrote the soldier.
D.G. Hall of the blog Cadillac Tight says he will continue to have unwavering support for the war, but admits that the tour extension is unfair, if necessary. According to Hall, lengthened tours and the ensuing war will affect not only soldiers and their families, but the entire American public.
Satta Sarmah is a CJR intern.
“Secretary Gates has said this is an interim step. Let it be so, and let our government get to work building out the defense infrastructure we need to remain proactive, rather than reactive in this war,” said Hall. “Shrimp, spinach, potatoes, and peanuts be damned, let’s spend this money where it needs to be spent, commit to keeping our promises, or ladies and gentlemen, get the hell out, and accept the consequences. All of us, as a nation, accept the consequences, rather than allowing our soldiers to be the only ones to do so.”