[JURIST] US Defense Secretary Robert Gates [official profile] has ordered all branches of the military to minimize their use of "stop loss" tactics to keep soldiers on active duty beyond their service contracts, notwithstanding a series of court rulings upholding the controversial practice. The "stop loss" policy [Wikipedia backgrounder], long criticized as a "backdoor draft," allows each branch of the military to keep troops for three months prior to and following a deployment and to prevent troops from retiring or separating prior to deployments. Gates has set a February 28 deadline for each service to come up with ways to cut down their use of "stop loss." US Army spokeswoman Rhonda Paige has indicated that a total of 10,711 soldiers were subject to stop-loss restrictions [Stars and Stripes report] as of 31 December 2006; the Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force have not used the program since 2003. AP has more.
In 2005, citing the potential for substantial disruption and diversion of military resources, US District Judge Royce C. Lambert refused to release [JURIST report] a "stop loss" soldier from Army duty. Three months later, in the context of a lawsuit launched by a soldier posted to Afghanistan, a panel of the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling [PDF] upholding the military's power [JURIST report] to issue emergency "stop-loss" orders pursuant to presidential authorization [US Code Title 10, s. 12305 text].