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Inside Politics

Iraq, Afghan wars reportedly strain U.S. fighting ability

From Kathleen Koch
CNN Washington Bureau

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has issued a report to Congress that said the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan could hamstring the U.S. ability to fight other wars, a senior military official told CNN.

The chairman, Gen. Richard Myers, supplied the report, an annual document on the U.S. military's ability to carry out war plans, to the lawmakers.

In a news conference last week, President Bush said Myers told him that "we have plenty of capacity."

Bush said he asked the general, "Do you feel that we've limited our capacity to deal with other problems because of our troop levels in Iraq?

"And the answer is, no, he doesn't feel we're limited," Bush said.

White House spokesman Trent Duffy reiterated Tuesday the president's belief that the military is prepared for whatever it may face.

"We are at war, and that level of operations does have some impact on troops," Duffy said. "But the president continues to be confident, as well as his military commanders, that we can meet any threat decisively."

The senior military official told CNN that because of the U.S. deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, the report concludes that future armed conflicts would last longer and produce higher casualties.

The report finds that the United States still would have the ability to win another military face-off but wouldn't be able to build up its forces as quickly as it did for the Iraq war.

"It would be harder to sprint that fast," the official said.

The report cites areas in particular stress: stockpiles of precision weapons and the availability of pre-positioned equipment, including vehicles, and reserve units -- who are providing much of the combat support in Iraq.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman downplayed the findings, calling the report an "internal management tool."

"What is certain is the U.S. military remains capable of executing every mission it is assigned," Whitman said.

But he acknowledged fighting multiple conflicts simultaneously can put stress on forces.

"If you're doing A, B and C and are asked to do D, will D be harder? Sure," Whitman said.

Speaking at his news conference Thursday, the president said that while troop levels were down in South Korea, for example, "we traded troops for new equipment."

"We brought ... our troop levels down in South Korea but replaced those troops with more capacity," Bush said.

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