Senators Seek to Increase Troop ‘Dwell Time’

By Nitya

Sep 19, 2007 11:34am

ABC News Z. Byron Wolf Reports: Though Democrats and a few anti-war Republican allies will have a hard time getting 60 votes for any war timetables or mandated phased redeployment, they are on the cusp of passing a bipartisan amendment that would force the White House and Pentagon to give American troops as much time at home as they spend deployed along with giving the National Guard and reserve troops three years between deployments.

In military speak, it would increase "dwell time."

The amendment is offered by Virginia Democrat Jim Webb and Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel, both military veterans, and by groups like the Military Officer’s Association of America and the National Military Families Association.

In a press conference held today, Webb and Hagel would not say they have the 60 votes they need, but seemed hopeful. They argued that the current rotational cycle for troops in and out of Iraq is "grinding" the force down and "ruining" it.

Hagel said, "Somebody needs to speak for the riflemen." Earlier, Hagel said the United States "cannot continue to look at the military as pawns and distractions" and "cannot continue to load the burden on the military."

"Your strategy has to be tied to your capabilities," Hagel said, "This administration has got it upside down."

"Four and 1/2 half hears into this war, it is time for the availability of troops to dictate the operational tempo, and not the other way around," Webb contended.

In July, a similar amendment got 56 votes when the Defense policy bill was considered, but 60 are needed to break a Republican filibuster. The White House has indicated it will veto any legislation that includes the provision even after Sen. Webb tweaked the amendment after hearing recent concerns of Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

While some Republicans who opposed the amendment in July have expressed some interest this go-around, at least one preeminent voice on national security — retiring Virginia Republican John Warner — has said he may oppose it this time.

Warner had asked publicly that some troops begin rotating out of Iraq before Christmas and as part of his roll back of the 30,000 troop surge by next summer, 5,700 marines associated with the surge will not be replaced when they come home before Christmas.

Hagel argued today that the drawdown was false advertising by the White House. He pointed out that when President Bush announced the surge in January, he said it would be a temporary troop increase. The return of those troops by Christmas was what was always promised, said Hagel, and it should not be viewed as "magnanimous."

The tweaks Webb added to the amendment address concerns from Secretary Gates and court Republican support including a 120 day delay before enacting the rotational constraints and waivers for special operations troops and regular troops in times of operational emergency. Asked if these tweaks, particularly the waiver, declaw the amendment and would allow the Pentagon simply to ignore it, Webb said they were necessary to approach passage.

Webb said, "This amendment was drafted with an eye to having it succeed. Not as some sort of political protest."

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