PHASING OUT ‘STOP-LOSS’…. Of all the controversial decisions the Bush administration made on military readiness, one of the most contentious was the “stop-loss” program — sometimes referred to as a “backdoor draft” — that prevented U.S. troops from leaving the military after their service commitment was complete.

The Pentagon announced today that the stop-loss order issued in November 2002 is coming to an end.

The military will phase out its “stop-loss” program, the contentious practice of holding troops beyond the end of their enlistments, for all but extraordinary situations, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced Wednesday. Instead, the military will use incentive programs to encourage extending service.

The stop-loss program was put into place to ensure that units remained intact during deployment. Tours of duty could be extended for those whose enlistment was due to end in the middle of their unit’s deployment.

Currently, the Army is the only service that uses the stop-loss program. As of January 2009, 13,217 soldiers had tours extended under the stop-loss policy.

I’d like to know a little more about what constitutes “extraordinary” situations, but at first blush, this seems like a very encouraging development. Gates, to his credit, has been working on ending stop-loss for a while now, and is finally able to follow through.

The shift isn’t immediate.

Under Gates’s new plan the Army Reserve would deploy or mobilize to war without using stop-loss beginning this August, while the National Guard would deploy its members without stop-loss in September. The active-duty Army will deploy its first unit without any stop-lossed soldiers in January 2010.

Gates said at a Pentagon press conference on Wednesday that he intends to cut stop-loss in half by June 2010 and completely eliminate it by March 2011.

The AP has more. Seems like good news.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.