IN OTHER WORDS::Relief, at last

The men and women who serve in Iraq and Afghanistan have made many sacrifices over the last seven years, including repeated and extended combat deployments. So it is very good news that Defence Secretary Robert Gates has decided to phase out the deeply unpopular stop-loss program, which forces soldiers to remain in the military after their enlistments end.

An estimated 120,000 troops have been affected since 2001, including 13,000 who are still prevented from exiting the service. It is hard to argue with critics who deride the program as a back-door draft. But then, the all-volunteer military was never designed to be abused as it was during the Bush administration: indefinitely deployed and in permanent crisis mode.

Gates seemed appropriately contrite when he told reporters that holding so many soldiers against their will was “breaking faith.” He was right. We hope that the Pentagon makes good on this commitment to use the stop-loss program sparingly. The best way to address the problem is for Obama and Congress to continue funding an expanded Army and Marine Corps and to resist waging unnecessary wars. Still, Gates’s decision is a sign that the administration recognises the intolerable stresses placed on the overstretched military

and is committed to finding relief. — The New York Times