WASHINGTON The Pentagon has identified some 14,000 National Guard soldiers who may go to Iraq as part of planning for deployments stretching as far as 2010, a senior U.S. defense official said on Friday.
Some of the Guard soldiers, part of the U.S. military's reserve component, may face deployment far sooner than the Pentagon's goal of five years at home for every year they are mobilized, the official said.
But the official, speaking on condition of anonymity as no announcement has yet been made, said more than two-thirds of the soldiers had not previously been deployed.
The Pentagon is likely to announce that four National Guard brigades, each with around 3,500 troops, have been alerted for possible deployment in Iraq as part of a rotation of forces to begin later this year and last into 2010, the official said.
"What we are looking at and will probably announce soon is identifying replacement forces," the official said. "The units that we are looking at, to alert ... are National Guard units."
Stretched by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military has not been able to stick to its goals on the amount of time troops get to spend at home between deployments.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a prominent Democratic critic of the Iraq war, criticized the National Guard plan. He said the Guard would be less prepared for emergencies at home.
"Our military is stretched too thin and our troops are returning to combat too soon and with too little training," Reid said in a statement.
On Monday, the Pentagon said it would send about 4,500 active duty troops to Iraq before they had spent even a year back at home. The Pentagon's goal for active-duty troops is two years at home for every one year deployed.
"When we are a nation at war we might not always be able to make those policy goals that we have for ourselves," the senior defense official said.
The United States has some 145,000 troops in Iraq and about 12 percent of those are members of the Guard.
National Guard troops would deploy around the end of this year at the earliest, the official said.
The Pentagon tries to give part-time troops such as Guard soldiers more notice of a likely deployment than active-duty forces to allow them, their families and their employers time to prepare for their departure, the official said.
The likely alert of National Guard forces was reported by NBC News on Thursday evening.