U.S. Forces Overstretched? Rumsfeld Says No

Two reports conclude the U.S. Army and Marines are being stretched dangerously thin because of repeated deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Democrats released one report, while the other Pentagon-commissioned study has not been made public. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has disputed the findings.

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Two new reports conclude that the U.S. Army and Marines are being stretched dangerously thin because of repeated deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. One report was released by congressional Democrats. The other has not been released publicly, but was commissioned by the Pentagon. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld today disputed the findings of both.

NPR's Vicky O'Hara has the story.

VICKY O: The report released by congressional Democrats warns that U.S. ground forces are under enormous strain, that if not relieved will have highly corrosive and potentially long-term effects on the force. The author of the report commissioned by the Pentagon is Andrew Krepinevich, a retired Army colonel who served under three defense secretaries. He says the Army is feeling the impact of decisions made in the aftermath of Vietnam.

ANDREW F: We built our Army after the Vietnam War with an eye towards not fighting these kinds of wars in the future. In a sense, no more Vietnams, no more protracted conflicts against insurgents and no more irregular warfare. So you could say we built our Army to be a world-class sprinter. Unfortunately, this war has turned out to be a marathon. And so the Army's having to adapt to that.

HARA: Krepinevich, now director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment here in Washington, says that the current operation's tempo is taking a great toll on the Army. His report notes that in 2005, the Army missed its recruiting goal for the first time since 1999. Bigger enlistment bonuses and other incentives, he writes, have failed to solve the problem. But at a Pentagon briefing today, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld discounted any suggestions that the Army is in danger of becoming a broken force.

DONALD RUMSFELD: I think anyone in the world who has watched what the men and women in uniform of this country are capable of doing would, would, anyone with an ounce of sense would see it exactly opposite.

HARA: Andrew Krepinevich emphasizes that his report does not say that the Army is in crisis.

KREPINEVICH: I'm saying that there are a number of negative trends that seem to be building over time that would indicate that unless we take some of the strain off the Army, we risk the Army hitting the wall or having some kind of an institutional crisis in terms of recruitment and retention.

HARA: The report prepared for congressional Democrats takes a harsher tone. It says the Bush administration failed to plan adequately for post-conflict Iraq, failed to send enough forces to accomplish the mission, and failed to adequately equip the troops. It also warns that shortfalls in equipment for the Army and Army National Guard have reduced the readiness of units here in the United States. Jack Reed is a Democratic senator from Rhode Island.

JACK REED: I think the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq has produced tensions on the military forces that will be felt for years, in terms of not only the personnel strain, but also in terms of the strain on the equipment.

HARA: Rumsfeld jabbed back at the Democrats during the Pentagon briefing. He noted that some of the authors of the congressional report served under President Clinton.

RUMSFELD: These are the people basically who did that report who were here in the '90s. And, and, and what we're doing is trying to adjust what was left us to fit the 21st century.

HARA: After 9/11, Congress authorized an increase in Army in-strength of 30,000 people. The congressional report says that increase in the Army should be made permanent. But Defense Secretary Rumsfeld pointed out that a permanent increase in military personnel is prohibitively expensive. He noted that the Army is in the process of transforming itself into a lighter, more flexible fighting force. Any decisions about increasing the size of the Army, he said, should await the outcome of that process.

Vicky O'Hara, NPR News, at the Pentagon.

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