Pentagon Expected to Call for More Troops

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A recent study commissioned by the Pentagon described the U.S. Army as being stretched too thin, but some military officials are disputing those findings. Military brass at the Pentagon are set to release a four-year plan for the nation's military forces, and are expected to call for the creation of more troops. John Hendren reports.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From NPR News this is Day to Day. In his State of the Union Address President Bush was upbeat about the progress of the war in Iraq, but just last week a study that the Pentagon Commission described the U.S. Army as being stretched to the breaking point. But Pentagon officials from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on down disagree. NPR's Pentagon correspondent John Hendren has this report.

JOHN HENDREN, reporting:

Even among supporters of the Bush administration there are those who criticize the Army's personnel planning. Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute is not happy that the Pentagon's upcoming four year plan is not expected to include more troops.

Mr. FREDERICK KAGAN (American Enterprise Institute): In the context of the clear strain on the Army and even on the Marine Corps and the clear recruiting problems that we've had it seems odd to say that the lessons of current conflicts are that we don't need to have more ground forces.

HENDREN: Lawrence Korb was an Assistant Secretary of Defense in the first Bush administration, he's now with the Center for American Progress in Washington. He says if there's one thing the Pentagon should have learned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan it's the need for plenty of ground troops.

Mr. LAWRENCE KORB (Former Assistant Secretary of Defense): You guys, Iraq has shown us and Afghanistan you're still going to need boots on the ground and unless you have a bigger army it's going to be very, very difficult for us to continue to prosecute this war, because it's going to involve us putting a lot of forces on the ground to deal with a lot of chaotic situations.

HENDREN: But the criticism that has caused the Pentagon the most trouble recently is the self-criticism in one of its own studies. In a report prepared at the request of the Defense Department retired military officer Andrew Krepinevich of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington concluded that the Army was stretched into what he called a thin green line. But as the Army's number two uniformed officer, Vice Chief of Staff General Richard Cody says that description goes too far.

General RICHARD CODY (Vice Chief of Staff, Army): We are an Army that is stretched, because we're fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan longer than we were on the plains of Europe during World War II, but we're on a course to be able to put the Army in a posture in terms of our manning, in terms of our equipping, our training so we can sustain the long fight. So I think thin green line may be a little bit overstated. You know, it's something we have to pay attention to.

HENDREN: The Army argues that fewer soldiers are needed today because technology makes them more efficient. Loren Thompson is with the Lexington Institute, a pro-military think tank in Virginia. He says that the Army's goal is to make soldiers 30 percent more efficient in the coming years.

Mr. LOREN THOMPSON (Lexington Institute): And so for example, a typical soldier would be better connected to the rest of the force through a wireless network, would have access to more sensors to say where friends and enemies are, would have guns that are more precise and have greater lethality than in the past. Cumulatively that means that one soldier is far more effective than a soldier of the past and therefore you don't need more soldiers in order to fight better.

HENDREN: To rebut critics who say the Army is broken Cody compares the current force to its counterpart in the Vietnam era. Unlike those troops, he says, the current all volunteer force remains largely supportive of the war.

General CODY: No, the Army's not broken at all and it really is the best lead and best equipped force we've ever put on the battlefield. I've served in this army since 1972 and I know what a broken army looks like, I was in one. We weren't well trained, weren't well equipped, and we had great people that came out of the Vietnam War that helped us rebuild this army. I have two sons in this army. One's serving his third tour and one's serving his second tour already. I would not let them belong to a broken army and I will tell you that we're on the right path.

HENDREN: Cody notes that while the Army failed to meet its recruiting goals last year its number have improved. And the more dire fears of those who predicted a return to the draft have failed to materialize.

John Hendren, NPR News, Washington.

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