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WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. National Guard and reservists are having their tours of duty extended to 12 months, defense officials said Tuesday, as U.S. commitments to Iraq, the global war on terror and other missions around the world have stretched U.S. forces.
With active duty troops already being held longer than expected in Iraq, officials ordered that Army Guard and Army Reserve troops now in Iraq and surrounding countries serve 12-month tours.
The new order, signed Friday night and not publicly announced, covers some 20,000 people and means some of them will remain months longer than they thought they would, officials said. The order was first reported by The Washington Post in Tuesday's editions.
There are 130,000 Americans -- including active duty personnel -- inside Iraq and more than 40,000 more in Kuwait, Qatar and so on. Only some 22,000 international troops have been deployed to help the mostly-American coalition force because a number of countries refuse to contribute soldiers unless the United States cedes greater authority in Iraq to the United Nations.
The subject of U.S. troop rotations has been a sensitive one in the Iraq campaign, with some active-duty soldiers and their families complaining bitterly about delays in their homecoming. Members of the 3rd Infantry Division, for instance, fought their way to Baghdad in late March and were told they'd be going home, only to remain in Iraq for months afterward because of continuing problems the coalition has encountered in ending the violence there.
The extended tours may not be any more welcome among guardsmen and reservists, called "citizen soldiers" because they have civilian jobs they must be away from while they serve in the military. Currently there are 181,500 on duty from all services -- including some 129,000 in the Army National Guard and Army Reserve -- and they are serving overseas as well as on homeland security missions.
Under an order signed by President Bush three days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in Washington and New York, up to 1 million Guard and Reserve troops can be called to serve for up to two years. Since then, roughly 300,000 people have been activated, some finishing their duty and going back to civilian life.
Officials said the Guard and reservists mobilized in Iraq are still needed there to augment active duty troops in skills across the spectrum, including as military police, civil affairs officers and other duties.
Earlier in the summer, the Pentagon spent weeks struggling to come up with a troop rotation plan because the Army has become so stretched during the Bush presidency, with major commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq in addition to peacekeeping in Bosnia and Kosovo and long-standing deployments in South Korea, Japan, Germany and the Sinai peninsula.
The Army, the largest of the armed services, has had portions of every major active-duty combat unit committed to either Iraq or Afghanistan, with the exception of the 2nd Infantry Division, which is in Korea.
In announcing the rotation plan in late July, officials said units that went to Iraq next were to serve one-year tours, with a few exceptions. One exception was the National Guard brigades, which will serve six-month tours.
In other words, Friday's order applies only to troops already in the theater of battle and not those scheduled to deploy in coming months.
And negotiations on a U.N. resolution come amid rising violence. Americans last week transferred control over parts of the south-central zone of the country to an international force led by Poland, a step in Washington's campaign to bring more nations into the U.S. occupation. But in a sign of how violence has plagued U.S. plans, American Marines postponed the handover of the city of Najaf, where a car bomb at a Shiite shrine killed some 100 people late last month.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)