A con­sis­tent mes­sage from the mil­i­tary

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

Dur­ing the first four months of this year, the edi­to­rial page of The Wash­ing­ton Times has been ex­am­in­ing the man­power, readi­ness and equip­ment crises af­flict­ing the U.S. Army, the Marine Corps and the Na­tional Guard. The se­ries of edi­to­ri­als re­view­ing the sit­u­a­tion ap­pears at www.wash­times.com/op-ed.

The crises have in­ten­si­fied in the past year. Re­gard­less of how the cur­rent bat­tle over the 2007 war-re­lated sup­ple­men­tal ap­pro­pri­a­tion plays out, the in­dis­putable con­clu­sion will be that the des­per­ately needed funds will still do lit­tle to al­le­vi­ate th­ese wors­en­ing crises.

In De­cem­ber 2004, four years into the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion and 21 months af­ter the Iraq war be­gan, then-Sec­re­tary of De­fense Don­ald Rums­feld de­flected a sol­dier’s ques­tion about “hill­billy ar­mor” he and his fel­low troops were as­sem­bling in Kuwait be­fore pro­ceed­ing into Iraq. “You go to war with the Army you have,” Mr. Rums­feld replied, “not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” Nearly two-and-a-half years of warfight­ing in Iraq and Afghanistan have oc­curred since then, and it is fair to say that the Army is closer to be­ing bro­ken to­day than it was then. The equip­ment cri­sis cer­tainly has de­te­ri­o­rated. More­over, the 35,000 ad­di­tional sol­diers and 22,000 ad­di­tional Marines ap­proved by Pres­i­dent Bush in Jan­uary will be added in an­nual in­cre­ments of 7,000 and 5,000, re­spec­tively, guar­an­tee­ing that the man­power cri­sis will not be solved in the near fu­ture.

Five-and-a-half years af­ter the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion’s war on ter­ror be­gan, re­tired Gen. Barry McCaf­frey con­cluded af­ter a re­cent visit to Iraq that “the U.S. Armed Forces are in a po­si­tion of strate­gic peril.” The sec­re­tary of de­fense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff “must get Congress to pro­vide emer­gency lev­els of re­sources, man­power and en­ergy into this rapidly fail­ing sys­tem,” Gen. McCaf­frey said. “If we do not ag­gres­sively re­build,” he warned, then “the ca­pa­bil­ity of the force ac­tu­ally de­ployed in Iraq will also de­grade.” At that point, “we are likely to en­counter a dis­as­ter.”

As re­cently re­tired Army Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker has fre­quently tes­ti­fied be­fore Congress, Amer­ica cashed an­nual peace-div­i­dend checks af­ter the Cold War ended. As a re­sult, there was “$100 bil­lion in un­der­in­vest­ment in the United States Army.” When the Iraq war be­gan, a $56 bil­lion Army equip­ment deficit re­mained. The sit­u­a­tion has be­come worse as the tempo of op­er­a­tions has in­ten­si­fied, while equip­ment re­place­ment and re­pair have failed to keep up.

In Jan­uary, the in­spec­tor gen­eral (IG) of the De­part­ment of De­fense re­leased a re­port, “Equip­ment Sta­tus of De­ployed Forces within the U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand,” which in­cludes Iraq and Afghanistan. “Based on re­sponses from ap­prox­i­mately 1,100 ser­vice mem­bers,” the IG re­ported, “they ex­pe­ri­enced short­ages of force-pro­tec­tion equip­ment, such as up-ar­mored ve­hi­cles [and] elec­tronic coun­ter­mea­sure de­vices” to thwart the in­creas­ingly lethal im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vices.

At a March hear­ing of the readi­ness panel of the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, sub­com­mit­tee Chair­man Solomon Or­tiz, a mod­er­ate Texas Demo­crat, de­scribed the sit­u­a­tion in stark terms. “I have seen the clas­si­fied Army-readi­ness re­ports, and based on those re­ports,” Mr. Or­tiz de­clared, “I be­lieve that we as a na­tion are at risk of ma­jor fail­ure” if the Army is “called to de­ploy to an emerg­ing threat.” In a se­cret anal­y­sis sent to Congress in Fe­bru­ary, the New York Times re­ported, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs, warned that the mil­i­tary now faces a “sig­nif­i­cant” (up­graded from “mod­er­ate”) risk of fail­ing to carry out its tasks in Iraq, Afghanistan and emerg­ing threats else­where. Also in Fe­bru­ary, Gen. Pace told the Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee that ac­tive­duty forces in the states “are go­ing to have about 60 per­cent or less of their equip­ment.” Writ­ing in The Wash­ing­ton Times re­cently, re­tired Maj. Gen. Robert H. Scales, a for­mer com­man­der of the Army War Col­lege, de­clared: “While the true mag­ni­tude of the Army’s equip­ment dis­as­ter re­mains clouded in clas­si­fi­ca­tion, the anec­do­tal ev­i­dence of im­pend­ing col­lapse is any­where you choose to look.”

Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, who serves as chief of the Na­tional Guard Bureau, re­cently said that “88 per­cent of the forces that are back here in the United States are very poorly equipped to­day in the Army Na­tional Guard.” In 2005, an av­er­age of 12 Na­tional Guard units were needed to do­nate equip­ment for one de­ploy­able unit. The equip­ment cri­sis in the Army Na­tional Guard “has re­duced the ca­pa­bil­ity of the United States to re­spond to cur­rent and ad­di­tional ma­jor con­tin­gen­cies, for­eign and do­mes­tic,” con­cluded a re­cent re­port by the Com­mis­sion on the Na­tional Guard and Re­serves. Gen. McCaf­frey re­cently talked with many of­fi­cials who be­lieve that the sec­ond round of Na­tional Guard in­vol­un­tary call-ups, which are now tak­ing place, “will top­ple the weak­ened Na­tional Guard struc­ture.”

“There is a sense of de­nial of the prob­lem in the Pen­tagon that I find ut­terly be­yond be­lief,” Gen. McCaf­frey, who served in Viet­nam and the Per­sian Gulf War, re­cently told the Na­tional Jour­nal. “My bot­tom line is that the Army is un­rav­el­ing, and if we don’t ex­pend sig­nif­i­cant na­tional en­ergy to re­verse that trend, some­time in the next two years we will break the Army just like we did dur­ing Viet­nam. Only this time we won’t have 10 years to fix it again. There will be no time­out for the Global War on Ter­ror.”

As Congress and the White House bat­tle over the 2007 sup­ple­men­tal that will fund the war on ter­ror through the end of Septem­ber, they should con­sider the longterm con­se­quences of their fail­ure so far to ad­e­quately ad­dress the evolv­ing man­power, equip­ment and readi­ness crises de­scribed by Gens. McCaf­frey, Scales, Schoomaker, Blum and Pace.

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