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Rumsfeld disputes readiness study

Defense secretary says military nowhere near 'breaking'

TAKING AIM AT PROBLEM

To reduce strain on soldiers, the Army is pursuing several new paths:

  • Increasing the number of active-duty combat brigades over the next few years from 33 to 42, with a goal of allowing soldiers to spend two years at a home station for every year on a war front.
  • In the short term, adding more troops to active-duty ranks. Eventually converting more military jobs to civilians, that would result in a larger combat force while keeping the overall Army at about 482,000.
  • Converting units like artillery and air defense to the kinds of units that are in greater demand, like Green Berets and military police.
  • Reducing troop levels in Iraq. A cut from the current 136,000 to 100,000 or lower by the end of the year, as many expect, would provide significant relief. The only announced plan is to cut to about 130,000 by March.

  • - The Associated Press

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    WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Wednesday disputed a Pentagon-commissioned study that warns the Army needs more troops for Iraq and Afghanistan, telling reporters the service is nowhere close to its breaking point.

    The study by Andrew Krepinevich, a military analyst and former Army officer, found that the Army's manpower needs for those conflicts "clearly exceed those available for the mission."

    "The forces called for proved insufficient to execute effectively stability operations of the type envisioned by the U.S. military," the study said. "A clear sign of this was the willingness of the U.S. command in Iraq to cede responsibilities for stability operations in several key cities to forces hostile to the interim government."

    Rumsfeld said he has not read the study but took issue with its conclusions.

    "There isn't any reason in the world why we shouldn't be able to maintain -- with an active and reserve total-force concept of 2 million people -- why we shouldn't be able to maintain 138,000, even though I don't expect we will maintain 138,000 in Iraq," he said. (U.S. troop levels)

    The 136-page study warns that the strain on what it called the Army's "thin green line" -- not the improvement of Iraqi and Afghan forces -- are driving plans to withdraw some troops in 2006. Rumsfeld called that "just false."

    He also criticized a report issued Wednesday by congressional Democrats that accused the Bush administration of straining the military by failing to send enough troops to occupy Iraq and inadequately equipping those that have been sent.

    Those conditions could have "highly corrosive and potentially long-term effects on the military," said William Perry, who served as defense secretary under President Clinton.

    But Rumsfeld said the U.S. military is now "battle-hardened," and the Democratic criticisms "are either out of date or just misdirected."

    "I just can't imagine someone looking at the United States armed forces today and suggesting that they're close to breaking," he said. "That's just not the case."

    The Krepinevich study said the all-volunteer Army instituted when the draft ended in 1973 is more potent than the conscript force used in Vietnam. But it warned that if troops are rotated into combat too frequently, many soldiers may decide that a military career is too risky or tough. Some forces are on their third rotation in Iraq.

    The Army fell short of its recruiting goals in 2005 despite boosting recruiting efforts, doubling enlistment bonuses, increasing the top age for recruits and accepting a higher number of college dropouts.

    Meanwhile, Krepinevich found divorce rates rising among soldiers, "an indication that repeated deployments are placing severe strains on military families."

    "There are worrisome pockets within the force structure that are suffering from retention problems, chief among them Army captains, who are leaving at a rate that is roughly a third higher than that of the 1990s," he reported.

    The National Guard and Reserve have faced worse shortfalls amid extended deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, effectively leaving the Army with "no strategic reserve," Krepinevich found.

    Rumsfeld said the percentage of Guard and Reserve troops in Iraq is going down, not up, and he said the service has met its monthly recruiting goals for seven straight months.

    But he said the force needed to be "rebalanced," with more special operations forces and a shift away from what he called "an institutional Army as opposed to a war-fighting Army."

    Krepinevich is also the author of a 2005 study that recommended a new strategy for winning the war in Iraq, one that would focus on creating safe zones rather than chasing insurgents from town to town without enough troops to secure those towns once the insurgents are pushed out.

    Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican and frequent Rumsfeld critic, endorsed key elements of that plan in a speech in November.

    The report said there is concern about retention rates for special operations forces and about discouraging figures for recruitment and retention for the National Guard and Reserve.

    "Compounding the Army's problem, it will likely soon lose the option to deploy many of its Reserve component forces, as more and more troops reach their 24-month call-up limit set by the Bush administration," it said.

    "The result will be a de facto decline in the number of National Guard brigades and reservists that can be deployed to Iraq, putting further stress on the Army's active component."

    The Democratic report was written by an advisory group that was chaired by Perry and commissioned by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. The report lays out five recommendations for future military needs.

    They include more funding for Iraq's recovery; adapting the National Guard and Reserves for the future; adding 30,000 Army soldiers; rebalancing the military so it is more prepared to handle missions ranging from combating terrorism to conducting reconstruction projects; and beefing up recruiting and retention efforts.

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