Washington The Navy and Army plan to alert about 27,000 National Guard and Reserve troops to prepare for a possible call to active duty, probably in the Persian Gulf region, defense officials said Saturday.
The decision to alert some reservists is a sign that the Pentagon is continuing to lay the ground work for a military operation against Iraq, should President Bush decide military force is necessary.
Virtually no military operation can be undertaken without the use of the National Guard and Reserves because, by design, the active-duty force is lacking in skills such as civil affairs and medical specialties.
If the United States should go to war against Iraq, the Pentagon probably would need to mobilize more than 100,000 National Guard and Reserve troops, not counting almost 51,000 now on active duty largely for homeland defense duties such as flying combat patrol missions over U.S. cities.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said he could not confirm any alert order and stressed that notifying reservists to prepare for possible mobilization was a step short of actually calling them to duty.
Another defense official said, however, that the Navy and Army were told to give alert orders to about 27,000 members of the National Guard and Reserve. The New York Times, which reported the development in its Saturday editions, said that if Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld eventually approved a formal mobilization order, he probably would not do so before Jan. 1.
It normally takes about 30 days for National Guard and Reserve troops to get their personal affairs in order and report for duty, once they get a mobilization order.
The Times reported that the naval reservists who are to be alerted in coming days include stevedores, port handlers, coastal patrol crews and medical personnel. Army Reserve personnel would include military police, engineers and logistics specialists.
Davis, the Pentagon spokesman, said that while he was unaware of any alert order being given, "routine preparations are being made to ensure unit and personnel readiness." He said the Pentagon had made it clear to reservists that they "should be ready to respond to the call if needed."