Military not ready for other wars
Troops in US lack resources, government says
WASHINGTON -- Four years after the invasion of Iraq, the high and growing demand for US troops there and in Afghanistan has left ground forces in the United States short of the training, personnel, and equipment that would be vital to fight a major ground conflict elsewhere, senior US military and government officials acknowledge.
More troubling, the officials say, is that it will take years for the Army and Marine Corps to recover from what some officials privately have called a "death spiral," in which the ever-more-rapid pace of war-zone rotations has consumed 40 percent of their total gear, wearied troops, and left no time to train to fight anything other than the insurgencies now at hand.
The risk to the nation is serious and deepening, senior officers warn, because the US military now lacks a large strategic reserve of ground troops ready to respond quickly and decisively to potential foreign crises, whether the internal collapse of Pakistan, a conflict with Iran, or an outbreak of war on the Korean Peninsula. Air and naval power can only go so far in compensating for infantry, artillery, and other land forces, they said. An immediate concern is that critical Army overseas equipment stocks for use in another conflict have been depleted by the recent troop increases in Iraq, they said.
"We have a strategy right now that is outstripping the means to execute it," General Peter Schoomaker, Army chief of staff, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.
The Army's vice chief of staff, General Richard Cody, described as "stark" the level of readiness of Army units in the United States, which would be called on if another war breaks out. "The readiness continues to decline of our next-to-deploy forces," Cody told the House Armed Services Committee's readiness panel last week. "And those forces, by the way, are . . .also your strategic reserve."
General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was asked last month by a House panel whether he was comfortable with the preparedness of Army units in the United States. He stated simply: "No . . . I am not comfortable."
"You take a lap around the globe -- you could start any place: Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Venezuela, Colombia, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, North Korea, back around to Pakistan, and I probably missed a few. There's no dearth of challenges out there for our armed forces," Pace warned in his testimony. He said the nation faces increased risk because of shortfalls in troops, equipment and training.
Pace said the unexpected demand for more troops in Iraq -- from the 10 brigades that commanders projected last year they would need by the end of 2006, to the 20 brigades scheduled to be there by June -- prompted him to recommend permanently adding 92,000 troops to the Army and Marine Corps, saying it would "make a large difference in our ability to be prepared for unforeseen contingencies."
Indeed, the recent increase of more than 32,000 US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan has pushed already severe readiness problems to what some officials and lawmakers consider a crisis point. Schoomaker said last week that sustaining the troop increase in Iraq beyond August would be "a challenge." The Marines' commandant, General James Conway, expressed concern to defense reporters last week that it would bring the Marine Corps "right on the margin" of breaking the minimum time at home for Marines between combat tours. US commanders in Iraq say they may need to keep troop levels elevated into early 2008.
The troop increase has also created an acute shortfall in the Army's equipment stored overseas -- known as "prepositioned stock" -- which would be critical to outfit US combat forces quickly should another conflict erupt, officials said.
The Army should have five full combat brigades' worth of such equipment: two stocks in Kuwait, one in South Korea, and two aboard ships in Guam and at the Diego Garcia base in the Indian Ocean. But the Army had to empty the afloat stocks to support the troop increase in Iraq, and the Kuwait stocks are being used as units rotate in and out of the country. Only the South Korea stock is close to complete, according to military and government officials.
"Without the prepositioned stocks, we would not have been able to meet the surge requirement," Schoomaker said. "It will take us two years to rebuild those stocks. That's part of my concern about our strategic depth."
"The status of our Army prepositioned stock . . . is bothersome," Cody said last week.
Democratic and Republican lawmakers who received classified briefings last week on the stocks and overall Army readiness voiced alarm.
"I'm deeply concerned," said Representative Ike Skelton, Democrat of Missouri and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, who last week asked the Congressional Budget Office and the Government Accountability Office to investigate the stocks "as a matter of vital importance to national defense."
Representative Solomon Ortiz, Democrat of Texas and chairman of the committee's readiness panel, said: "I have seen the classified-only readiness reports. And based on those reports, I believe that we as a nation are at risk of major failure, should our Army be called to deploy to an emerging threat."