WASHINGTON -- About 18,000 National Guard soldiers from four major units have gone on alert for likely deployment to Iraq late this year or in early 2005, the Pentagon said yesterday.
The announcement underscores the deepening involvement of Guard and reserve forces in US-led efforts to quell the insurgency in Iraq and stabilize the country. Forty-five Guard and reserve members have been killed in action in Iraq, and 42 more have died of noncombat related causes.
The Guard units alerted are the 42d Infantry Division headquarters from the New York National Guard, the 256th Infantry Brigade from Louisiana, the 116th Cavalry Brigade from Idaho and Oregon, and the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment from Tennessee.
They will be mobilized over the next several months for training before their new assignment, the Pentagon said.
The 42d Infantry Division will be the first National Guard division headquarters to serve in Iraq; others have served in the Balkans in recent years.
With the receipt of the alert notices, members of those units are prevented from leaving the service until 90 days after their mobilization ends.
The Pentagon did not say how long they would be on active duty, suggesting it may be less than the 12-month tours required of Guard and reserve members now in Iraq and of those headed there this spring. They could be kept on active duty for up to two years.
The Guardsmen will be part of a larger force, probably totaling about 100,000 active duty and reserve troops, that is expected to take over for the contingent just beginning a one-year tour in Iraq.
The length of their mobilization depends on how much training they need as well as the requirements of the Central Command commander, General John Abizaid, who manages the Iraq operation.
The Pentagon said additional Guard forces will be alerted and mobilized for duty in Iraq, but did not say how many or from which states. Officials said the forces probably would be combat support and service support units mobilized after the combat units go on active duty.
The alerts were issued well in advance to give the Guard members adequate time to prepare. Many Guardsmen and some members of Congress have contended that mobilizations for Iraq has occurred with little notice.