The US army has moved to recall nearly 6,000 former soldiers to active service to help maintain its force levels in Iraq and Afghanistan.
America is proud of its volunteer armed services
It has played down the move but this is the first sizeable call-up of the kind since the 1991 Gulf War and critics say it amounts to backdoor conscription.
The US has relied on volunteer armed forces since ending the draft three decades ago during the Vietnam War.
It has a pool of 111,000 ex-soldiers in its Individual Ready Reserve.
The BBC's Pentagon correspondent, Nick Childs, reports that the recall is a further sign of the strain on the army and is likely to provoke controversy.
There are currently about 140,000 US troops in Iraq, many more than the Pentagon had originally planned for at this stage.
As members of the IRR, the 5,600 former soldiers now being recalled have retired or otherwise left the military but still have a reserve obligation.
INDIVIDUAL READY RESERVE
Currently numbers 111,000
Members have active status but do not train
Most recent mass involuntary call-ups: 1991 and 1968
Unlike other reservists, however, they do not train or receive pay unless they are mobilised and probably did not expect ever to have to serve again, our correspondent says.
The US army defended the recall as "nothing new or unusual".
"It's a management tool which we've always had available to augment our forces when we need additional personnel in a time of war," said Lt Col Pamela Hart, an army spokeswoman at the Pentagon.
The development, along with other recent Pentagon moves to stop many current soldiers from retiring, will add ammunition to those critics who say the Bush administration is attempting a backdoor draft.
Retired Army Col Andrew Bacevich, a Boston University international relations professor, said the recall suggested the army was too small for its current missions.
American soldiers are now deployed across the world
"These are people who used to be soldiers and no longer are," he was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.
"The informal contract... is that I have volunteered for a certain period of time and once that time is up, then the choice returns to me to decide either to continue my service or to opt out.
"What the Bush administration is doing is just shredding that informal contract."
The national security adviser to the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry said the recall was proof of the Bush administration's failure to enlist foreign support in Iraq.
"The fact is that this involuntary call-up is a direct result of the Bush administration's diplomatic failure to get real international help in Iraq," said Rand Beers.
Read selection of your comments:
While I was not recalled this time around, I was recalled from the IRR in 2002. At that time, I was not happy about the recall but I knew it was my duty so I fulfilled my obligation. It's not a question of being a "backdoor conscription." Every person joining the US military signs a contract for eight years and is aware of what he or she is getting into (if not, that's the fault of the enlistee, not the military). Enlisted members might not believe they will ever be recalled (I didn't) but it is a possibility, especially given events of late. Regardless of whether or not it's "new or unusual", it is part of a legal, binding contract. The military member might not like it, but it is indisputable nonetheless.
Misty Benson, Washington DC, USA
The retired colonel is basically lying. There is no informal contract. That's just garbage. More news speak. It's not a draft in any way, shape or form. The army calls up its Reservists based on whether there is a need or not. I was called up during the first Gulf War from the IRR because of a perceived need. No soldier that is in the army is unaware of their obligations when they volunteer. One can certainly argue about the proper size of the army relative to its commitments, but calling this call up of reservists a draft is misleading, to say the least.
Eric Blair, Philadelphia, USA
I guarantee you the contract I signed in 1980 when I joined the US Army is in stark contrast with the benefits I am receiving after retiring in 1998. The Department of Defense is the only organization I know that can change either parties' obligations during the life of the contract and even change, delete and otherwise alter any benefits after you retire. Read the fine print ladies and gentlemen and consider the extreme rather than the norm - before you sign-up.
Robert Godfrey, Upper Marlboro, MD, USA
Two of my three brothers served in the US Army (Third Armoured Division) and finished their contracts prior to the first gulf war. They were abruptly summoned back to service and away from their university studies based upon their IRR status. This recall was disruptive to their lives and significantly slowed their progress toward their university degrees.
I'm a former US Army Captain who served a total of five years and incurred an eight year IRR obligation when I left the service shortly after the first gulf war. As a cadet when I was signing various contract papers, I was clearly told that the IRR recall provision would be used only in a WW III type event. As far as I am aware, the first use of the IRR recall was in the first gulf war. Knowing this unspoken covenant had been breached by the first president Bush and seeing its disruptive effect on the lives of my brothers, I was hugely relieved when my IRR obligation time recently ran out.
Word will get around regarding the liberal use of what was originally intended as a means to recall soldiers in the event of dire need. The Army has already taken stop loss action, preventing soldiers serving in Iraq from coming home after their contracted obligation is served. Under the leadership of the Bush presidents, the army is developing a Hotel California reputation - you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. This abuse of the spirit of military service contracts, although legal, undermines the long-term security of the US by making recruiting quality soldiers and officers more difficult.
Eric Miller, Walnut Creek
I'm not being recalled personally but I served with IRR soldiers who were recalled to duty during the first Gulf War in 1991. Back then the IRR soldiers in my unit were very shocked and angry that they were called back to duty and I bet the current IRR soldiers feel the same way. My heart goes out to them. From what I understand many of the current IRR soldiers being recalled had their original active duty enlistment extended because of the stop loss orders in place and finally were discharged only to be brought back.
Tom Bainbridge, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, USA
The men recalled that I know all are anxious to once again serve their country. They liked the job in the first place. Why doesn't the public and the press get it - many people like this kind of action and adventure. The alternative is often a school teaching job in Peoria, or a shoe clerk job in Kansas City. Many of these men bring real talent back to the force.
Larry Hastings, San Diego, California, USA
I served my country in the late 70s and once I was discharged, I positively considered that I had completed my duty and service. I would not consider it legal to reinstate my active service, and if called up now, would claim not only that the reinstatement of my active status an infringement on my legal rights, but would posit status of conscientious objector, not to an illegal war, but to an illegal invasion of a sovereign country. We went to war in 1991 against Hussein for invading Kuwait, and now I am supposed to defend our country for invading Iraq?
Len Probert, San Carlos, USA
Activating the IRR isn't quite a "backdoor conscription," but it is a last ditch effort to avoid starting a draft before the presidential elections. As a member of the IRR, I have been watching stories like this with a keen interest. Thank you BBC, I only wish these stories would generate coverage in my own country.
Andrew Bacon, Gales Ferry, USA
I am a former sergeant in the US Army, and currently am in the IRR. I don't see how this call-up constitutes any failure at all on anybody's part. Nobody is shredding any "informal contract." When someone enlists in the Army, they sign a contract which includes a total of eight years of service. In my case, it was four years active plus four years IRR. This has nothing to do with a draft, because everybody in the IRR did volunteer for those eight years. If they call me up, I'm not going to complain that I didn't expect to be called back.
Whether or not I might like it is irrelevant. I signed the contract. The Bush Administration knows what they have to work with, and that includes this 111,000 soldier pool. They're using this resource to take some strain off of the current active duty soldiers. I usually try to stay out of the political scene, but if John Kerry doesn't understand this, how fit is he to be our Commander In Chief?
Joseph Chobot, Reading, PA, US
As an Individual Ready Reservist (IRR), I can assure you this administrative move is very unsettling. After serving my five years of active duty my life has moved from military training to study. My interests have moved decidedly from perpetuating American Empire to confronting the inequity it fosters throughout the world. If an attempt were made to rip me from my collegiate/professional career to buttress an illegitimate and ill-conceived war effort, I for one would be very hard to find.
I have already willingly served my country, but the unfortunate truth is that the military machine always chooses its own needs over those of its dedicated troops. This recent action comes as no surprise and may in fact mark a move towards further constrictive policies as the War on Terror lurches into the future.
Tommy Wilson, Lexington, KY, United States
I am one of the IRR that they might call. I am in the medical field and have an established practice. I am very upset, not only to the fact of being called, but to the overall length of the call up - 18 months! Even in Vietnam the tour was only one year.
Capt AJ, Sarasota, USA
I am not in the Army, but I am currently an Inactive Reservist for the Air Force along with two other people I know. All three of us are waiting and watching these developments, as we might be next. My significant other and I watched and cried as the bombs started dropping, and we cried when PFC Maupin was shot. I have been out of Active Duty for three years... I am currently in a job I love, in a place I love, with a family I love. When anybody leaves the active military, we are all subject to the four year inactive reserve, with an understanding that we would get called back only if WW III started. Is this WW III, or is it a poor management of American Troops? It is poor management.
Is this "nothing new or unusual"? Yes, it is unusual. I am scared, as are the two other people that are on Inactive Reserve. I have been against this war and Bush from the start. This is very sad for the families that Bush has killed. Bush has no respect for his people, and that's part of the reason I got out of the Air Force - I didn't trust my boss with my life.
Heather, Fairfax, Virginia, USA
I have been notified that I am one of those to be recalled to service. I am currently living in London, after leaving what had been a traumatic experience. I hope I am able to avoid going back.
Yeah, I'm one of the soldiers that has been called up. I didn't want to, but I had no choice. I feel my rights have been violated. Shortly after I received the letter in the mail telling me I had been re-drafted, I decided to just move out of town to stay with relatives, because there's no way in hell I want to be going anywhere near Iraq, but somehow, as I was leaving, these army guys turned up and stopped me, and I went with them some hours later under escort. I don't know how they knew I was leaving. As for a contract - what contract?
Jim-Bob Trefell, Michigan, US