Military draft back on US agenda

June 13, 2005

THE United States would "have to face" a painful dilemma on restoring the military draft as rising casualties saw the number of volunteers dry up, a senator warned today.

Joseph Biden, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, made the prediction after new data released by the Pentagon showed the US Army failing to meet its recruitment targets for four straight months.

"We're going to have to face that question," he said on NBC's Meet the Press TV show when asked if it was realistic to expect restoration of the draft.

"The truth of the matter is, it is going to become a subject, if, in fact, there's a 40 per cent shortfall in recruitment. It's just a reality," he said.

The comment came after the Department of Defence announced the army had missed its recruiting goal for May by 1661 recruits, or 25 per cent. Similar losses have been reported by army officials every month since February.

Experts said the latest figure was misleading because the army had quietly lowered its May recruitment target from 8050 to 6700 people. It has been suggested the real shortfall is closer to 40 per cent.

Since October, the shortfall in recruits has been put at more than 8000 people, which amounts to the loss of about a modern brigade.

The army, navy and marine corps reserves also fell short of their monthly goals by 18 per cent, six per cent and 12 per cent respectively, according to the latest figures.

Recruitment at the Army National Guard was down 29 per cent, while the Air National Guard fell short 22 per cent.

The United States abandoned the military draft in 1973, following mass protests during the Vietnam War, and switched to an all-volunteer force.

Mandatory registration for the draft was suspended in 1975, but resumed in 1980 after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. About 13.5 million men are now registered with the US Government as potential draftees.

During the 2004 election campaign, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry repeatedly accused President George W. Bush of planning to re-instate "a back-door draft", charges the president vehemently denied.

But while admitting that restoring the draft would be politically "very difficult," Senator Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said something would have to be done because the situation with recruitment was not likely to improve.

"If you think you have trouble getting recruits today, you're going to have far more trouble six months from now," he predicted on CBS's Face the Nation.

"It is not going to get better. That's going to get worse."

Republican Representative Curt Weldon called the recruitment shortfalls "troublesome" and "unacceptable".

But he urged the military "to find ways to fix the current system" and to attract more recruits with the help of new incentives.

Nearly 9000 US troops have been killed in Iraq. Nearly 50,000 US troops have been injured in Iraq.



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