The Iraq war marks the first test of the all-volunteer US military during a protracted war, and army officials have conceded that all three components of the army will likely miss their recruiting goals for fiscal 2005, which ends on 30 September.

The army, aiming to get 80,000 recruits this year, stood 11% behind its year-to-date goal at the end of July, with just two months left to overcome a shortfall of more than 7000. It has not missed an annual recruiting goal since 1999.

The army provides the bulk of ground troops in the Iraq war, in which about 1840 US troops have been killed and nearly 14,000 wounded.

It achieved its second-straight monthly goal - sending 8,085 new soldiers into boot camp in July, topping its goal by 9% - after falling short in the previous four months, according to figures released by the Pentagon on Wednesday.

Guard and Reserve

"We've had some positive momentum, and I can assure you that it makes us feel better to have a couple of good months"

Douglas Smith,
US Army Recruiting Command

The situation was bleaker in the part-time Guard and Reserve, used heavily in Iraq as the Pentagon seeks to maintain troop levels.

"I know our recruiters are going to do what they can to close the gap, but right now it looks like we will miss both active and reserve (goals) at the end of the year," said Army Recruiting Command spokesman Douglas Smith.

The Reserve missed its July recruiting target by 18%, getting 2131 recruits with a goal of 2585, and stood 20% behind its year-to-date target. It had a shortfall of about 4700 recruits toward its 2005 goal of 28,485.

The Army National Guard has missed every monthly goal in fiscal 2005 after falling short in 2004 and 2003, the Pentagon said. It missed its July goal by 20% - getting 4,712 recruits with a quota of 2,585 - and was 23% behind its year-to-date target.

Recruiting problems

With two months left, it had a shortfall of more than 11,600 toward an annual goal of 63,002. The army has attributed the recruiting problems to a growing number of families who are wary of military service because of the Iraq war, and an improving economy that is creating more civilian jobs.

The Pentagon is looking at new
ways to retain military numbers

"We've had some positive momentum, and I can assure you that it makes us feel better to have a couple of good months," Smith said, referring to active-duty recruiting in June and July. "The problem is that with the deficit we face for the remainder of the year, it's just a matter of time running out on us."

The Army has upped the financial incentives for enlistment and added recruiters.

Lowering the bar

Last month the Pentagon asked Congress to raise the maximum age for enlistment in the military to 42. The ceiling now is 35 for active-duty service and 39 for enlisting in the reserves or National Guard with no prior military service.

The Marine Corps made its July goal and was 2% ahead year-to-date. While the Air Force hit its targets, the Navy missed its July goal by 1% but remained slightly ahead of its year-to-date quota.

Some defence analysts have argued the United States may have to consider resuming the draft, abolished in 1973 during the Vietnam War era, if the military is unable to attract sufficient numbers of recruits. The Pentagon opposes resumption of the draft.