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Military tour extensions likely through 2009

WASHINGTON – The Army’s use of involuntary extensions of combat duty will likely continue through 2009 despite pledges earlier this year by top military officials to reduce reliance on the policy known as stop loss.

In September, 12,204 soldiers were affected by stop loss, a policy that forces them to remain in the Army after their service commitment has expired. The same number likely will be affected each month through 2009, Army Lt. Col. Mike Moose said Thursday.

Stop loss strains troops and their families, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged in May. But Gates and the Army say the policy is needed to maintain the cohesion of units heading to battle.

“The secretary understands the stress on the Army, but … he wants to see the Army rely less on stop loss. They need to make better progress on this,” Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said Sunday.

Poor planning is to blame, said Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., a retired vice admiral and member of the House Armed Services Committee. “I understand the need to ensure our troops are fully manned in combat. However, because of the failures to properly plan and execute this conflict, there have unfortunately been many false promises and additional burdens placed on our brave troops.”

The number of soldiers affected by stop loss peaked in 2005 at 15,758. Gates ordered stop loss to be minimized in January 2007. It fell to 8,540 in May 2007 but rose to about 12,000 in March and has stayed near that level.