WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced on Wednesday that the Army is effectively halting "stop loss," the practice of ordering soldiers to stay in the military service beyond their obligation, saying the practice was "breaking faith" with the troops.
The Army Reserve will suspend the practice in August; the Army National Guard will follow suit in September and the Army in January. Troops who were forced to stay beyond their obligation after October 2008 will receive an additional $500 monthly salary, Gates said.
More than 13,000 soldiers are serving under the stop-loss program, up from 7,000 when Gates took his post in December 2006.
"I felt particularly in these numbers that it was breaking faith," Gates said. "To hold them against their will is just not the right thing to do," he told Pentagon reporters.
Many were forced to remain in uniform during the U.S. troop surge into Iraq in 2007, when the military sent an additional 30,000 troops to Iraq. In addition to using the stop loss, the military extended Army tours in Iraq from 12 months to 15 months.
Besides ensuring that there were enough forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, stop loss helped keep units more cohesive, the military argued.
Stop loss now can be dropped in part because the U.S. signed a status of forces agreement with Iraq late last year that calls for a U.S. withdrawal by the end of 2011. Gates also said that the Army would expand to 537,000 soldiers sooner than anticipated, reducing the need for stop loss.
Gates said there'd always have to be exceptions, but he said that he hoped "scores" instead of thousands would be forced to stay beyond their obligations, namely those with special skills.
The secretary also announced that he expected the Defense Department to determine how to allow family members to view fallen soldiers returning to Dover Air Base, and if the families allow, to invite the news media to photograph their return.
Gates spoke on the eve of the sixth anniversary of the start of the Iraq war. There are 138,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and 39,000 in Afghanistan.
Gates also announced that he'd recommended to President Barack Obama that he renew the terms of Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Marine Gen. James Cartwright, the vice chief of staff of the Army. Their two-year terms expire on Sept. 30.
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