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Kerry: U.S. forces spread too thin

Democrat proposes training 40,000 new soldiers


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INDEPENDENCE, Missouri (CNN) -- The U.S. military is stretched too thin, and the Bush administration has done little to reshape it to fight nontraditional enemies such as al Qaeda, presumptive Democratic candidate John Kerry said Thursday.

Kerry pledged to expand the number of active-duty troops by training 40,000 new soldiers to relieve the strain on regular and reserve forces.

He acknowledged that the administration has called for "transformation" of the military. But its idea of change was directed at fighting conventional wars, he told an audience at the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri.

The United States must create a military ready for any mission, from armored battle to urban warfare to homeland security, Kerry said. The military also needs more fighters and specialists, and should have used more troops for the invasion of Iraq, he declared.

Nine out of 10 active-duty Army divisions -- 80 percent of the Army's active-duty combat divisions -- are committed to Iraq, Kerry said. They either are there, preparing to go or just returned.

"That is a dangerous and potentially disastrous course that limits our capacity to respond to other crises," he said. "The administration's answer has been to put Band-aids on the problem. They have effectively used a stop-loss policy as a back door draft."

To bolster the number of military personnel, the United States has extended tours of duty, delayed retirements, prevented enlisted personnel from leaving the service and over-relied on reserve troops, Kerry said.

Forty percent of Iraq's forces -- 165,000 troops -- are reservists and National Guard members, he added.

Comparing the war against terrorism to the challenges Truman faced at the end of World War II and beyond, Kerry said the United States "must deploy all that is in America's arsenal -- our diplomacy, our intelligence, our economic power, and the power of our values and ideas."

"They [terror groups] present the central national security challenge of our generation," he said. "But they are unlike any other adversary our nation has ever confronted.

"They have no president, capital city, territory, army or national identity. We are not absolutely certain how they are organized or how many operatives they have. But we know the destruction they can inflict."


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