Retired General Advocates a Larger Army

Retired Gen. Gordon Sullivan, a former Army Chief of Staff, says the U.S. has stretched troop levels almost to the limit with operations in Iraq. Sullivan tells Steve Inskeep that he thinks the U.S. should increase the size of the regular Army by about 100,000 soldiers.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Former Secretary of State James Baker has an answer to those who say the U.S. should send large numbers of extra troops to Iraq.

Mr. JAMES BAKER (Iraq Study Group): Additional fully combat-ready United States forces of that magnitude are simply not available.

INSKEEP: James Baker made that statement yesterday, as his commission proposed a new approach to the war in Iraq. The stress on American troops around the world is also on the mind of retired General Gordon Sullivan. He's a former Army chief of staff and he's the latest voice in our conversations this week on Iraq and the U.S. military.

At any one time, the U.S. has 140,000 troops in Iraq, an equal number that recently left, and another group preparing to come in, which is to say most of the available troops.

General GORDON SULLIVAN (U.S. Army, Retired): So if you multiple 140 time three and you have an active army, which is about 520,000, you only wind up with around 100,000 to maintain the sustaining base. And frankly, you're out of manpower.

INSKEEP: How much larger do you want it to be?

Gen. SULLIVAN: About 100,000 in the active force. That presumes you can recruit them.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about that. Would you lower the quality a little bit in order to get the greater quantity?

Gen. SULLIVAN: Not much. I don't think in today's world, given the requirements - to be language qualified, culturally sensitive, disciplined, that you can lower it much.

INSKEEP: Unless you just can't find the recruits and then you have to get anybody you can get.

Gen. SULLIVAN: Well, I suppose. But I would like to think in a country of 300 million that we can find men and women willing to serve their country at a time of crisis, which I think is readily apparent.

INSKEEP: General, has the Army's quality been degraded by the necessity to keep the vast majority of it moving in and out of Iraq for the last several years?

Gen. SULLIVAN: I certainly think the soldiers, the men and women in uniform and their families are paying a price for all of this: one year in and one year out, without much time to refresh yourselves, either to reconnect with your families, sort of be re-trained.

INSKEEP: General, would you still say that 100,000 extra troops were needed if, as some people are advocating, the U.S. begins to bring down its troop presence in Iraq somewhat?

Gen. SULLIVAN: Well, I don't know what that means, because General Abizaid and others have said that they need advisory detachments. Now, you may reduce the number of combat units, but then the advisory detachments go up.

INSKEEP: To train the Iraqi forces.

Gen. SULLIVAN: To train the Iraqis. It's the mix and what kind of troops. Now, without getting too inside baseball here, if you take the combat units and take them apart and put them into advisory detachments - 10 and 20 men and women in an advisory detachment - and there's no reserve to do anything else…

INSKEEP: You're not ready for another war.

Gen. SULLIVAN: You're not ready to go to Korea or whatever. Who knows where, the Antarctica, someplace. The point is that they can't be doing advisory work and also be involved in training in traditional units.

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask a related question to that. Given the situation right now, given the number of troops rotating in and out of Iraq, is the Army in position to fight another war should one break out in Korea or any number of other places you could mention?

Gen. SULLIVAN: I don't think the total Army is ready to do that, given that your regular Army, your active Army, is deeply involved in Iraq and Afghanistan. I think the only trained manpower you could get to would be in the Guard and Reserve. This is going to be a less than desirable solution. I think the Marines are in the same boat.

INSKEEP: When you look at what's happening to the Army now, do you see any danger of recreating the situation in the 1970s when it was said that the U.S. had a hollow Army that really didn't have the training and the manpower and the equipment to fight?

Gen. SULLIVAN: Well, I think there's a danger of fracturing the Army during this protracted conflict. The men and women who are serving are remarkably resilient. They're tough and they're dedicated. I don't know how long we can say that. I don't think anybody knows.

INSKEEP: General Gordon Sullivan is a former U.S. Army chief of staff.

General, thanks very much.

Gen. SULLIVAN: Okay, Steve.

INSKEEP: And our conversations finish tomorrow with the current vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army. And we're going to ask him about some issues we've raised this week - troop strength, training advisors, and paying for ruined equipment.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.