Springfield State Journal Register

January 26, 2006

Report restates strains on military

By OTTO KREISHER
COPLEY NEW SERVICE

WASHINGTON - The Army and Marine Corps ground forces are stretched to the breaking point by the prolonged large 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 Wednesday.

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

Both reports argue 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.

In presenting the Democrats' report, 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."

But 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 They are either out of date or just misdirected."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 declared. 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 terrorist attacks, leaving little force available for call up without a new presidential declaration of a national emergency, it 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 California-based 1st Marine Expeditionary Force 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.