WASHINGTON – As Pentagon (search) officials put together a plan to call up more National Guard and Reserve (search) forces to serve in Iraq, some members of Congress are calling for units already there to return home.
"If we don't ease the burden on the Guard and Reserves, we're going to have retention problems," said Sen. John McCain (search), R-Ariz., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., said he is becoming uneasy about how much the units are called on to serve.
"You have to have some sort of rotation scheme for the men or women that are over there that's a limit to how long they'll stay. Then you have to bring in other people, other divisions or other National Guard or whatever," Lott said.
Pentagon officials said Thursday that more units must be mobilized because they expect that too few international troops will be available by early next year.
The additional reservists have not been notified because Pentagon planners have yet to decide which units to call on, and there remains a chance that international troops can be used instead.
The extra forces -- which could turn out to be a mixture of international troops, active-duty U.S. Marines and National Guard and Reserve soldiers -- are to replace active-duty units due to return home.
"There are combat support and combat service support units in the reserve component that probably have not been notified yet," Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a news conference at the Pentagon with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
"They will be notified in plenty of time to give them all the notification they need and all the training," he added.
A survey of U.S. troops in Iraq, meanwhile, found that one-third described their morale as low and half did not plan to re-enlist -- findings that led Pentagon leaders to say Thursday they are closely watching for such problems. Asked about the report, Rumsfeld and Myers said there are initial indications in only one area -- the Army Reserve -- that recruiting or re-enlistments could be suffering.
Myers also disclosed that the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, with about 2,200 Marines aboard the USS Peleliu, went ashore in southern Iraq to assist a campaign to halt the smuggling of oil and fuel.
The anti-smuggling effort, called "Operation Sweeney," has resulted in the arrests of about 75 people and the seizure of 20 full barges, 15 empty barges, eight oil boats, 36 petroleum tankers and nine pickup trucks containing fuel and 10 fuel pumps, Myers said.
Few other details were available.
In a telephone message recorded Wednesday for the Marines' family members, Capt. Bill Pelletier of that Marine unit said they were operating on the Faw peninsula and would remain there for "an as-yet undetermined period of time." Their home station is Camp Pendleton, Calif.
The National Guard and Reserve units to which Myers referred are in addition to two infantry brigades -- the 39th of the Arkansas National Guard and the 30th of the North Carolina National Guard -- that have been mobilized and are scheduled to head to Iraq early next year. They will help replace two active-duty divisions -- the 1st Armored and 1st Infantry.
The Pentagon also has alerted -- but not yet activated -- the 81st Armor Brigade of the Washington State National Guard.
In addition to those combat units, Myers said a number of Guard and Reserve support units would be needed if the Bush administration does not get enough troop contributions from Turkey and other international partners in time to deploy them early next year. At that point, the Army expects to send home the 101st Airborne Division, which will have been there a full year.
In a report Thursday, WTVF-TV in Nashville, Tenn., quoted family members of 101st Airborne soldiers in Iraq as saying the soldiers have been told that some elements of the division will rotate back to their home base at Fort Campbell, Ky., between Dec. 15 and Jan. 1.
Rumsfeld said it was too early to say there will be insufficient numbers of international troops available by early next year, but he strongly suggested that time was not on the Pentagon's side. U.S. officials are in discussion with several countries, including South Korea and Pakistan. Arrangements are being ironed out with Turkey, which has agreed to provide troops.
"Expecting something as complex as that to happen rapidly, I think probably is not likely," Rumsfeld said.
Rumsfeld welcomed the U.N. Security Council's passage Thursday of a new resolution that authorizes a multinational military force in Iraq under a single command led by the United States. The resolution also calls for troop contributions and financial support from U.N. member states; Rumsfeld said it was not clear how many more troops will be offered as a result.
Myers also provided the first public confirmation that U.S. forces captured Aso Hawleri, a leading figure in the Kurdish-Islamic extremist group Ansar al-Islam, which U.S. officials say has ties to Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorist network. Myers said Hawleri was captured near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, but he did not say when or provide other details of the arrest.
Myers described Hawleri as the second- or third-ranking member of Ansar al-Islam. He said the group "clearly is supported to some degree" by Al Qaeda in terms of financing or perhaps weaponry. He predicted the capture would produce "very valuable intelligence not only on their efforts but who else is involved and where they're doing it and any relationship to past attacks (on U.S. forces in Iraq) that they might have been involved in."