The size and timing of the mobilizations hinges heavily on Iraq’s response to the United Nations resolution requiring Baghdad to disarm, and the pace of the international arms inspections.
In what is likely to be only the first wave of new call-ups, the Pentagon is expected in the next several days to activate as many as 10,000 reservists, mainly military police units, for security duty here and abroad, officials said. They would join the 50,755 reservists now mobilized for the defense of the United States after Sept. 11 and for the war in Afghanistan.
But if President Bush orders an attack against Iraq, the Pentagon has plans to summon to active duty roughly as many reservists as it did during the Persian Gulf war in 1991, when about 265,000 members of the National Guard and Reserves were called up. No final decisions have been made on these larger mobilizations, officials said.
“Activating reserves is significant because it will affect every community in America, and it sends a signal that the president is serious,” a senior military official said.
As Pentagon officials considered the Reserve issue, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz asked NATO nations in Brussels to contribute forces to an American-led military campaign to oust President Saddam Hussein. In another effort to build a broad international coalition, the White House today invited the leader of the largest party in Turkey’s new governing coalition to meet with President Bush next week.
Asked by reporters today to assess the progress of weapons inspections in Iraq, Mr. Bush said it was too early to tell whether Mr. Hussein would comply. But he expressed deep skepticism, saying Mr. Hussein was “not somebody who looks like he’s interested in complying with disarmament.”
The Pentagon and the White House are handling the Reserve issue with great care. When and whom to mobilize are tricky, officials said. Defense officials want to mobilize reservists early enough to allow commanders to move quickly if President Bush orders an attack against Iraq. They also want to honor as best they can the Pentagon’s policy of giving reservists 30 days’ notice before mobilizing, to allow them to get their affairs in order and for their employers to find replacements.
“What we try to do is always give a 30-day notification, if we can,” Thomas F. Hall, the assistant secretary of defense for Reserve affairs, told reporters last month. “Naturally, if we had a crisis, we could go below that.”
But activating reservists too early could backfire. Pentagon officials said they want to avoid calling up tens of thousands of reservists during the holiday season, disrupting their families, jobs and schooling, especially if the international arms inspections in Iraq delay any offensive for weeks or months, and leave mobilized reservists with little to do.
“You don’t want to jerk the reservists around,” a senior military official said. “If you call them up before Christmas and don’t give them something meaningful to do, that’s dumb.”
The issue is important enough that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and their top aides meet about twice a week to discuss the Reserve call-ups, a senior military official said.
Gen. Tommy R. Franks, the commander of American forces in the gulf, is also keenly aware of the important role that reservists would play, and how the timing of their call-up would affect other parts of the war planning, another top military official said.
Mr. Rumsfeld is so concerned about the impact of any call-up that he recently ordered aides to review all potential mobilizations to ensure they are truly needed. One defense official said today that if the Pentagon does not announce its expected call-up of 10,000 reservists in the next few days, Mr. Rumsfeld will probably postpone it until after Jan. 1.
“We’re trying to balance this,” a third senior military official said. “If the choice is calling up tens of thousands of people on Dec. 20 or on Jan. 10, and it’s militarily insignificant when you do it, we’re going to try not to disrupt people’s lives.”
If the United States attacks Iraq, large numbers of Guard and Reserve troops will be needed to protect military bases overseas and at home because of a heightened fear of terrorism. The troops, especially those in the National Guard, would also be expected to play an important role in protecting potential terrorist targets in the United States, including power plants and transportation hubs.
In addition to Army National Guard and Reserve forces, Navy and Coast Guard Reserves would patrol the nation’s maritime borders, and putting more fighter jets over American cities would require large numbers of Air Force and Navy pilots, ground crews and aircraft, most of them reservists. No specific units have been publicly identified.
Reservists are typically summoned for 90 days to one year, but about 4,000 men and women called up after Sept. 11, 2001, are now entering their second year of service.
Officials who specialize in Reserve affairs say the decision on a major call-up could come at any time. “I’m expecting it any day,” said Bob Hollingsworth, executive director of the Pentagon’s office of Employer Support of Guard and Reserves.
For that reason, many National Guard and Reserve unit commanders nationwide say they have already taken steps to ensure that their reservists have filled out as much paperwork in advance as possible, and have had their inoculations updated.
But many other reservists — as well as their families and employers — are watching the news out of Iraq, and waiting nervously. “Our concern is with employers who’ve just had guys demobilized, and now may have them remobilized if this goes down,” Mr. Hollingsworth said. “How will employers react to this?”
As Pentagon officials continued to weigh a Reserve call-up, White House officials today pressed for more vigorous and fast-paced inspections of Iraq but carefully avoided questioning the performance of the small inspection team that has been in Iraq for a week.
In private, the United States appears to be pressing the inspectors to act more vigorously, and to extract Iraqi scientists from the country — with their families — so that they can be questioned outside Mr. Hussein’s reach. Hans Blix, the head of the United Nations inspections team, has not said publicly whether he thinks it would be wise or helpful to conduct such interviews, which are authorized under the Security Council resolution passed last month.
The issue will probably not be decided until after Iraq makes its declaration this weekend of all its weapons stores and “dual use” facilities that might be converted to making weapons of mass destruction.
But Iraq said today that its declaration would state that it has no banned weapons. The White House cited those statements as evidence that Mr. Hussein was not taking the United Nations demands seriously.
“We believe, and we have said it publicly, they continue to have weapons of mass destruction — biological weapons and chemical weapons,” the White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. Iraq’s denials in the 1990’s, he said, were proven false.
But he expressed concern that the new inspections may not uncover any banned weapons. “Whether inspectors ultimately will be able to disprove any lie by the Iraqis remains to be determined,” he said.
“We want to make certain that they are aggressive enough to be able to ascertain the facts in the face of an adversary who in the past did everything in his power to hide the facts,” Mr. Fleischer said.