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. Rumsfeld Defends US Military Readiness

Rumsfeld and the army's chief of staff, General Peter Schoomaker, acknowledged that replacing equipment worn out or lost in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan is costing the army four billion dollars a year.
by Staff Writers
Washington DC (AFP) Feb 07, 2006
US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld defended military readiness Tuesday as he presented Congress with a 439.3 billion dollar budget that devotes billions to refurbishing a war-stressed army.

"I would say that any who use the word 'broken' with respect to the army is incorrect," Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

He called it "the most agile, most skilled and most expeditionary" force in US history, rejecting recent studies that warn the war in Iraq has stretched the US army to breaking point.

Rumsfeld and the army's chief of staff, General Peter Schoomaker, acknowledged, however, that replacing equipment worn out or lost in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan is costing the army four billion dollars a year.

"As long as we're at this level of operations, we will continue to have to do it, not unlike we did in Desert Shield, Desert Storm," Schoomaker said, referring to the 1991 Gulf War.

An overhaul of the army's force structure that army leaders hope will ease the pressure on their forces is costing another five billion dollars a year, the general said.

Temporary increases in the army's active duty force to meet the demands of deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan are costing another three billion dollars, he said.

Rumsfeld and Schoomaker said the force structure changes and other efficiencies in time should enable the army to generate more deployable combat brigades without increasing the overall size of the army.

They also denied that the army planned to cut back the size of the army national guard, a sensitive domestic issue because the national guard falls under the authority of state governors.

The army national guard currently has an authorized strength of 350,000 personnel, but its actual size has dwindled to 333,000 because of recruiting problems.

Schoomaker has said the army will fund only the guard's actual strength, but will increase funding if the guard is able to recruit more soldiers.

Criticism of the military budget centered mainly on the army's plans for the national guard.

But some senators also sharply questioned the government's use of emergency funding to keep growing war costs from appearing in the regular defense budget.

Calling it an "end-run around the authorization process," Senator John McCain, a Republican, noted that the administration intends to make its seventh request for emergency war funding since 2001, totalling 400 billion dollars.

"It's got to stop. Your requests have got to be included in the normal budget process and the normal authorization and appropriations process," he told Rumsfeld.

Senator Robert Byrd, a Democrat from West Virginia, expressed astonishment at the sheer size of the budget.

With war costs included, he said, "the defense budget balloons to nearly 560 billion dollars: well over a half trillion dollars."

"This is a mind-boggling sum of money for defense," he said.

But he, like other senators, generally supported the seven percent increase in military spending.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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