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US Army to Extend Duty Tours, Offer Re-Enlistment Bonuses - 2004-01-06

The U.S. Army is offering cash bonuses to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan who agree to re-enlist while at the same time barring some others from leaving the military.

Some 3,500 U.S. Army soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan who were planning to retire or otherwise leave the military are having their duty tours extended involuntarily. In addition, a similar number of soldiers scheduled to transfer out of the combat region are having their tours extended as well.

These so-called "Stop Loss/Stop Movement" orders affect only a small portion of active duty military personnel. But some critics say the move reflects the difficulties the Army is having to meet its global commitments.

The military's top officer, General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledges U.S. forces are being worked hard.

But speaking at a Pentagon news briefing, General Myers said fighting terrorism is critical. "We are a nation at war. We've got a large part of our force over there, doing very important work in two countries in a region that has previously and still is host to terrorist organizations. This is very important for our national security. It's very important for international security," he said.

In addition to the Stop Loss/Stop Movement orders, the Army is making available some $63 million to pay soldiers bonuses of up to $10,000 each to re-enlist. Officials describe the bonuses as a common management tool to keep troops in uniform.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says there are no clear signs at present that the military is facing difficulties in keeping veteran troops or recruiting new ones.

But he told reporters the bonus program as well as the Stop Loss orders are intended to ward off potential problems. "What we're trying to do is manage the force now, so that we don't have a fall off in recruitment or retention a year from now and then have a gap where we have to scramble to try to rectify that," he said.

Both Mr. Rumsfeld and General Myers made clear in response to questions that they see no need for a revival of the military draft, last used during the Vietnam war.