Senate rejects effort to curtail deployment of reserves to Iraq

WASHINGTON -- The Senate rejected an effort Tuesday by its most vocal critic of the war in Iraq to curtail President Bush's deployment of National Guard and Reserve forces there and in Afghanistan.

The attempt by Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., to limit the overseas missions of Guard and Reserve forces to six months, one time a year, came as Democrats called anew for an investigation into prewar intelligence that turned out to be bogus.

Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said her committee's inquiry into intelligence on Iraq will look into Bush's State of the Union claim that Iraq sought uranium from African nations -- a statement apparently based on forgeries.

Majority Republicans mustered a 64-31 majority to deny putting Byrd's amendment on a $368.6 billion bill to cover military spending next year. Lawmakers already have been put on notice that they will be asked for more money as 147,000 American troops remain in Iraq.

Democrats have repeatedly criticized Bush for not aggressively seeking more international forces to police Iraq and help oversee its reconstruction as American soldiers continue to be killed in sporadic attacks from Iraqi resisters. - "I believe that they are effectively sitting ducks over there, and something needs to be done," said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.

Sen. Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican who oversees the defense budget, said Byrd's "blanket rule" limiting Reserve and Guard deployments would threaten the president's ability to fulfill his military and security obligations. Stevens won support from associations of National Guard and Reserve troops and officers, who said the measure would tie Bush's hands too much.

Acknowledging the stress on soldiers caused by repeated deployments, Stevens responded with a proposal to establish an 11-member commission to study the problem and recommend new guidelines for using National Guard and Reserve troops.

Stevens said current law limits the overseas missions of those forces to 180 days, not including time spent preparing and returning from the mission. "The problem isn't the duration of the deployment, it's the frequency of the deployment," he said.

Byrd said the troops need to know when they'll be coming home.

"It is unreasonable to dip into the Guard and Reserves so frequently, pull these men and women away from their civilian careers and their families and expect them to serve overseas with no indication of when their mission will end," he said.

The Defense Department reported last week that 204,100 Guard and Reserve forces were now mobilized to active duty.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said last week the Pentagon needs to reassess how it uses those forces and look at possibly shifting some of their duties to the regular armed forces.

"We ought to have on active duty the kinds of people that are going to be needed for longer-term chores, or tasks which are going to frequently come up," Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "We can't keep calling the same people up four, five, six times. It's just not right."

Iraq's U.S. administrator said Tuesday American troops will need to remain in Iraq until constitution and a democratic government are in place. The remarks by L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. official in Iraq, marked the first time U.S. administrator linked the length of the mission to the political process.

American soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division, who fought the war and stayed to establish the peace, were told they will probably be brought home in September. Officials refused to make firm promises.

Those soldiers and their families had been led to believe the troops would return home once major fighting in Baghdad was over, but they have stayed while most other troops have been sent home.

The issue was fought out over a bill giving defense programs $368.6 billion for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. The bill represents an increase of just more than 1 percent over this year, but that ignores a $62.4 billion emergency spending bill passed midyear to cover the cost of war in Iraq.

The 2004 bill does not include the costs of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which will probably be financed by another emergency spending bill. The Senate will debate Wednesday whether to force the president to quickly submit an estimate of future costs of war in Iraq.

The bill also blocks funds for the Terrorism Information Awareness program, a Bush surveillance initiative to cull records for evidence of terrorist activity. The administration said the provision will "deny an important potential tool in the war on terrorism."

The Republican-led House Appropriations Committee also voted Tuesday to scale back the research Bush wants for developing a new generation of "bunker busting" nuclear warheads.

The bill is S1382.