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US Marine call-up signals a long war

Troop levels in Iraq could remain at current levels for two years, experts say.

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With the "global war on terrorism" in Afghanistan and Iraq now well into its fourth year, the strain is starting to show on US troop levels.

The Marine Corps announced this week that it will involuntarily activate 2,500 reservists.

Briefing reporters Tuesday, Col. Guy Stratton, head of Marine Corps manpower mobilization, acknowledged that "this is going to be a long war" and that there is "clearly a need" for more marines in Iraq and Afghanistan. In essence, Col. Stratton said, there have not been enough volunteers among those in the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) – marines who served four years on active duty but are eligible for recall for the next four years.

The Marine Corps call-up follows a pattern in military manpower in recent years.

Some of those in uniform are on their second or third deployment to the war zones. From time to time, the Army has had to recruit more soldiers from the "lowest acceptable" category based on test scores, education levels, personal background, and other indicators of ability. Some military recruiters – always under pressure to produce – have been reprimanded for illegally inducing clearly unqualified young men and women into signing up. "Citizen soldiers" in the National Guard have played an extraordinarily large role on the ground in combat areas.

To some experts, the call-up of Marine Corps reservists indicates that the war is likely to last longer and be more hard-fought than earlier official predictions.

"The most significant dimension of this to me is that it says there are no longer any rosy assessments about how things are going in Iraq and Afghanistan," says retired Air Force Col. Sam Gardiner. "The call-up suggests the Pentagon envisions current troop levels in Iraq through the summer of 2008, with these guys going in the summer of 2007 for one year."

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