A top US military officer in charge of coordinating the US war effort in Iraq said Friday that it makes sense to consider a return of the draft to meet the US military’s needs.
Lieutenant General Douglas Lute, who serves as a White House deputy national security adviser, said the all-volunteer military is serving “exceedingly well” and the administration has not decided it needs to be replaced with a draft.
But in an interview with National Public Radio, Lute said, “I think it makes sense to certainly consider it, and I can tell you, this has always been an option on the table.”
“But ultimately, this is a policy matter between meeting the demands for the nation’s security by one means or another,” he said.
Dana Perino, a White House spokeswoman, played down the general’s remarks.
“The President believes an all volunteer military serves the country well and there is no discussion of returning to a draft. General Lute’s comments are consistent with the President’s stated policy,” she said from Kennebunkport, Maine.
The United States did away with the draft in 1973 near the end of the Vietnam War.
The US military has preferred an all-volunteer force because it has allowed it to recruit better educated, more motivated troops for a high-tech force.
But commanders worry that repeated deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan will break the force.
“As an army officer, this is a matter of real concern to me,” Lute said.
“Ultimately, the American army, and any other all-volunteer force, rests with the support and the morale and the willingness to serve demonstrated by our — especially our young men and women in uniform,” he said.
“And I am concerned that those men and women and the families they represent are under stress as a result of repeated deployments,” he said.
“And when the system is under stress, it’s right to be concerned about some of the future decisions these young men and women may make. I think our military leaders are right to be focused on that,” he said.
Separately, the US military said the army and marines met their recruiting goals in July and were on track to meet their recruiting targets for the year.
But the army, which missed its recruiting goals in May and June, is now offering new recruits 20,000 dollar bonuses if they sign up and ship out to boot camp before September 30, the end of the fiscal year.
“There’s also a professional and broader strategic argument to this, and that is that when our forces are as engaged as they have been over the last several years, particularly in Iraq, that we’re concerned as military professionals that we also keep a very sharp edge honed for other contingencies outside of Iraq,” Lute said.
He said a key test will come in April when combat brigades now in Iraq begin reaching the end of tours that already have been extended from a year to 15 months.
The military will then face decisions on whether to extend tours beyond 15 months, or deploy brigades that have had less than a year between tours to rest and recover, in order to maintain the current level of forces in Iraq.
Currently there are 162,000 US troops in Iraq, the most there has been since the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
“I do agree that come the spring, some variables will have to change — either the degree to which the American ground forces, the marines and the army in particular, are deployed around the world to include Iraq, or the length of time they’re deployed in one tour, or the length of time they enjoy at home. Those are, essentially, the three variables,” Lutte said.
Lute has been dubbed the “war czar,” but he called it “an fortunate term because it doesn’t describe my job at all.”
He said his job was to match the efforts of the bureaucracy in Washington with the needs on the ground in Iraq.
“I’m in charge of about 15 people. Now that’s not exactly very czar-like, but what I am able to do is make sure that efforts are aligned properly,” he said.