40,000 U.S. Troops Have Deserted Since 2000
Since 2000, about 40,000 troops from all branches of the military have deserted, the Pentagon says.
More than half served in the Army. But the Army says numbers have decreased each year since the United States began its war on terror in Afghanistan. Those who help war resisters say desertion is more prevalent than the military has admitted.
"They lied in Vietnam with the amount of opposition to the war and they're lying now," said Eric Seitz, an attorney who represents Army Lt. Ehren Watada, the first commissioned officer to refuse deployment to the war in Iraq.
Watada is under military custody in Fort Lewis, Wash., because he refused to join his Stryker brigade when it was sent to Iraq last month. Watada said he doesn't object to war but considers the conflict in Iraq illegal. The Army has turned down his request to resign and plans to file charges against him.
A 2002 Army report says desertion is fairly constant but tends to worsen during wartime, when there's an increased need for troops and enlistment standards are more lax. They also say deserters tend to be less educated and more likely to have engaged in delinquent behavior than other troops.
Army spokesman Hilferty said the Army doesn't try to find deserters. Instead, their names are given to civilian law enforcement officers who often nab them during routine traffic stops and turn them over to the military.
Commanders then decide whether to rehabilitate or court-martial the alleged deserter. There's an incentive to rehabilitate because it costs the military an average of $38,000 to recruit and train a replacement.
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