IRAQ: Thousands forced to serve in 'backdoor draft'
The number of soldiers forced to remain in the Army involuntarily under the military's controversial "stop-loss" program has risen sharply since the Pentagon extended combat tours last year, officials said Thursday.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates was briefed about the program by Army officials who said that thousands of new stop-loss orders were issued to keep soldiers from leaving the service after Gates ordered combat tours extended from 12 to 15 months last spring.
The Army has resorted to involuntary extensions of soldiers' enlistment terms to prevent them from leaving immediately before a combat tour or in the middle of a deployment.
Army officials have argued that the policy is necessary to ensure that they are not forced to send inadequately trained soldiers and unprepared units into war.
However, many soldiers subjected to the stop-loss policy consider it a "backdoor draft." Critics argue that once soldiers have completed the enlistment period they agreed to, they should be allowed to return home. The involuntary retention program is so unpopular that it helped inspire a recent movie called "Stop-Loss."
-- Julian E. Barnes in Washington, D.C.