U.S. ground units seen stretched to breaking point

Deployments strain Army, Marine Corps

By Otto Kreisher

January 26, 2006

WASHINGTON – The Army and Marine Corps ground units are stretched to the breaking point by the prolonged commitment of troops to Iraq and Afghanistan and cannot sustain the current pace of deployments "without doing real damage to their forces," a report sponsored by congressional Democrats charged yesterday.

The report follows by a day the release of a Pentagon-funded study that drew similar conclusions.

Both reports contend that the administration has decided to begin reducing the number of troops in Iraq because service leaders know they cannot sustain the current level, not because of an improvement in the security situation there.

The Democrats' report was produced by a team led by former Defense Secretary William Perry, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and retired Army Gen. John Shalikashvili, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Perry said that although the U.S. forces are performing "superbly" in the war on terror, "our ground forces are under enormous strain. This strain, if not soon relieved, will have highly corrosive and potentially long-term effects on the force."

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The former national security officials, all members of the Clinton administration, were asked to compile the report by the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco and Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dismissed the findings of both reports, telling Pentagon reporters, "those comments do not reflect the current situation. They are either out of date or just misdirected."

"The force is not broken. . . . It is a force that has been deployed, functioned effectively and . . . battle hardened," Rumsfeld said. While admitting he had not read the reports, he called them "a misunderstanding of the situation."

To support its conclusions, the Democrats' report noted that "every available combat brigade from the active Army has already been to Afghanistan or Iraq at least once," and many units are on a second tour.

About 95 percent of the Army National Guard's combat battalions and special operations units have been activated since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, leaving little force available for call-up without a new presidential declaration of a national emergency, the report said.

Also, all active-duty Marine Corps units "are being used on a tight rotation schedule" with less than a year home between seven-month deployments, it said.

The 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton is deploying to Iraq for the third time since early 2003. About one-third of the enlisted Marines in those units are facing their third combat tour while another third will be going for a second time.

Yesterday's report also pointed out the failure by the active Army, Army Guard and Army Reserve to meet their recruiting goals last year, leaving them short of their authorized personnel strength.

The Marines continue to make their annual recruiting goals, but recruiters say they must work much harder to find enough qualified candidates.

And while all the active services are meeting their goals for retaining serving personnel, the report voiced concern that such loyalty could fade in the face of continued combat deployments.

"The all-volunteer force is now in historically uncharted waters: fighting a protracted conflict with volunteers rather than draftees," the report said.

The Democrats' report said the military will need additional personnel, dramatic reorganization to get better use of the total force and at least $58 billion to repair and replace equipment destroyed or worn out in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., a former Army airborne officer who helped present the report, said Congress should forget extending expiring tax cuts and use the money to avoid a breakdown of the U.S. military.

The Pentagon-funded study reported Tuesday by The Association Press was prepared by Andrew Krepinevich, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who has been a frequent Pentagon consultant.

He wrote that the Army is "in a race against time" to adjust to the current demands "or risk breaking the force."

Rumsfeld, however, rejected every conclusion of the reports and at one point noted that the Bush administration has had to correct the problems with the military created "during the period of the '90s," when Bill Clinton, a Democrat, was president.

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