The army's problem with mobilising soldiers from the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR), a seldom-tapped personnel pool, is another sign of the difficulty the Pentagon is encountering in maintaining troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan, the army said on Tuesday.

So far, the army has mobilised 3664 people from the IRR to active duty, but 1085 have not reported on time to the army post to which they were assigned, said Julia Collins, a spokeswoman for the Army Human Resources Command.

The IRR is made up of 111,000 people who have completed their voluntary army service commitments and have returned to civilian life, but remain eligible to be mobilised in a national emergency.

Many have been out of the active military duty for years.

Eight of those recently ordered back to active duty have been listed as absent without leave, or AWOL, and could face military criminal charges as deserters, Collins said.

All eight were notified they were being classified as AWOL and still refused to report for duty, Collins added.

Exemption sought

In addition, their names will be entered into a national criminal investigation database, and they could be arrested if, for example, they are stopped by a police officer for a routine traffic violation, Collins said.

Six others had been listed as AWOL, but agreed to report after being contacted by the army, Collins said.

The US is finding it hard to keep up
troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan

About 85% of those who did not show up on time have formally requested that the army exempt them from duty due to health issues or some other hardship, Collins said.

Most of the others have requested a delay in their reporting date.

Most exemption requests are likely to be rejected, Collins said.

"I expect a small percent to be approved for exemption," she said. "The cases are so varied: You've got medical, you've got financial hardship, you've got sole caretaker for children or parents."

The army provides an automatic 30-day delay in the reporting date when someone applies for exemption or delay, she added.

Troop shortfalls

Looking to address shortfalls in certain military skills in Iraq and Afghanistan, the army announced in June it planned to mobilise about 5600 soldiers from the IRR and conceded that some might be shocked to learn they were being ordered back to active duty.

The remaining 1300 of the 5600 are due to be summoned by December.

Most of those mobilised from the IRR are reporting to Fort Jackson in South Carolina, but others are reporting to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, Fort Sill in Oklahoma, Fort Knox in Kentucky and Fort Benning in Georgia, Collins said.

This marks the first large-scale mobilisation from the IRR since the Gulf War of 1991.

The army, stretched thin as the United States fights wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has struggled to maintain force levels in those war zones.

It has relied heavily on part-time soldiers from the National Guard and Reserve and last spring kept thousands of soldiers in Iraq months longer than they had been promised.

It also has issued "stop-loss" orders preventing tens of thousands of soldiers designated to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan from leaving the military if their volunteer service commitment ends during their deployment.