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Iraq And Afghanistan Puts US Military Under Critical Strain

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Jan 25, 2006
The US military has become perilously overstretched by the strain of repeated military deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, two reports warned Thursday.

The reports urged various steps to relieve the pressure, but both suggested that much depends on whether the size of the 138,000-strong US force in Iraq is scaled down over the next year or two.

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dismissed the warnings as "either out of date or misdirected."

"The force is not broken," he told a press conference.

One report was by an outside expert hired by the Pentagon. The second was by former top officials in the administration of President Bill Clinton, led by former secretary of state Madeleine Albright and former defense secretary William Perry.

"While the US military has performed superbly in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, our ground forces are under enormous strain," said the report by the former Clinton administration officials.

"This strain, if not soon relieved, will have highly corrosive and potentially long-term effects on the force," they added.

They accused the current administration of failing to adequately size and equip the force for the post invasion occupation of Iraq, saying it created "a real risk of 'breaking the force.'"

They said the United States has "only limited ground force capability ready to respond to other contingencies."

"The absence of a credible strategic reserve in our ground forces increases the risk that potential adversaries will be tempted to challenge the United States," the report said.

Recruiting shortfalls, the risk of a future retention crisis, and equipment shortages will make it difficult for the army to fully man its force and meet the demands for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, it said.

"These factors will create tremendous internal pressures to begin drawing down the level of army forces in Iraq by next spring, whatever the conditions on the ground may be," it said.

The document recommended a five-point action plan, including a permanent 30,000 troop increase in the size of the army, greater funding for equipment and increased support for military recruiting and retention efforts.

Andrew Krepinevich, a military expert contracted by the Pentagon to assess the war in Iraq, warned of the danger of the army becoming a "thin green line."

Faltering morale among an overburdened force and eroding public support for the war would threaten the ability of the army and marines "to maintain sufficient forces to prosecute the war to a successful conclusion," he wrote.

He said the military is "in a race against time -- attempting to create an effective Iraqi internal security force and corresponding civil structure before the patience of the US centers of gravity -- the American people and American soldier -- are exhausted."

The assessments contrast sharply with the optimism of senior US officials.

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said assertions that the military was near the breaking point were "a misunderstanding of the situation."

"I mean, these are the people basically, who did that report, who were here in the '90s," he said. "And what we're doing is trying to adjust what was left us to fit the 21st century."

He pointed to an army reorganization that will increase in combat brigades from 33 to 42, and improved recruiting figures.

He said US force levels have begun to come down in Iraq, but denied it was to relieve the pressures on the force.

He said that the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 had shown the power of the US military.

"The message from that is not that this armed force is a broken force but that this armed force is enormously capable," said Rumsfeld.

"It is battle hardened, it is not a peacetime force."

Source: Agence France-Presse

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