MICHELE NORRIS, host:
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says that over the next year, the number of National Guard and reserve forces in Iraq and Afghanistan will be reduced substantially. General Peter Pace offered that assessment during budget testimony today before the Senate Armed Services Committee. The President's 2007 budget request seeks a 7 percent increase in defense spending, compared with this year. NPR's Vicky O'Hara has the story.
VICKY O'HARA reporting:
Members of the committee raised numerous questions about the heavy reliance on the Guard and Reserve for duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. General Pace acknowledged that at times the Guard and reserve have constituted 40 percent of the troops deployed in both countries. But that percentage, he says, is being reduced.
General ROBERT PACE (Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff): It is 30 percent now, and the force that is deploying over the next year, from March of this year to March of next year, will be about 19 percent in Guard and Reserve. So the size of the force is coming down, and a need for contribution from the Guard and Reserve is coming down.
O'HARA: The Pentagon plans to reduce the total number of both active and reserve forces in Iraq this year, but state officials are especially concerned about their citizen soldiers, some of whom were deployed with inadequate training and equipment. General Peter Schoomaker, the Army Chief of Staff, told the committee the Guard will be reorganized to address that problem, and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said the states also will benefit from plans to rebalance the skills within the National Guard.
Defense Secretary RUMSFELD: As that takes place, the Guard will have the kinds of capabilities that will be vastly more useful to a state in a domestic disaster of some kind than exists today.
O'HARA: Rumsfeld, Pace and Schoomaker appeared before the Armed Services Committee to defend their record budget request for more than $439 billion. Senator Carl Levin, ranking democrat on the committee, called the budget irresponsible because, as in previous years, it does not include the tens of billions of dollars needed for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Bush Administration funds those operations through emergency supplemental legislation, but Congress is increasingly impatient with that. Republican, John McCain of Arizona.
Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): I don't know how you call it an emergency anymore when we know that we're going to have costs for a number of years associated with the Iraq war, so what it effectively is, is an in-run around the authorization process.
O'HARA: Some defense analysts have criticized the budget proposal because it expands capabilities to defend against terrorism and irregular warfare, while preserving the big ticket weapon systems more appropriate for a conventional war. Rumsfeld, today, offered this justification.
Defense Secretary DONALD RUMSFELD: No nation, no matter how powerful, has the resources and capability to defend everywhere at every moment of the day or night against every conceivable type of technique. The only way to protect the American people, therefore, is to provide our military with as wide a range of options as possible to focus on developing a range of capabilities rather than preparing to confront any one threat.
O'HARA: Committee members generally didn't quibble with Rumsfeld; in fact, Senator Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut democrat, expressed concern that the nation is not doing enough in its own Defense. Tomorrow, Rumsfeld defends the budget before the House Armed Services Committee. Vicky O'Hara, NPR News, Washington.