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Army stretched thin, report says

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan have stretched the U.S. Army so thin that its ability to retain and recruit soldiers is threatened, according to an Army-sponsored report released yesterday.

The report by the Rand Corp.'s Arroyo Center -- the Army's federally funded research institute -- said "no quick fix" is in sight and is the service's most public acknowledgment so far of the burden exacted on forces by the war on terror. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has publicly rejected the notion that troops are stretched too thin to win the war.

However, the report comes as the Pentagon considers dropping its long-standing "two-war strategy" -- the Cold War doctrine saying the United States must be ready to fight two major wars at the same time.

It says Army plans to restructure into a larger number of more mobile brigades in the coming years will help ease the strain caused by Iraq and Afghanistan deployments. But, it adds, even after such restructuring, "problems will remain."

Noting that many active-duty combat units already are spending more than one out of every two years deployed to foreign battlefields, the report says long-term options for improving the situation include relying more on the Army National Guard or expanding the number of Army combat brigades. One combat brigade consists of about 3,500 soldiers.

Citing "considerable strain" on the Army, the report says the service could face "serious problems" if current deployments are not eased.

"The challenge the Army faces is profound," said Lynn Davis, a senior Rand analyst and lead author of the report. "Any approach is fraught with risks and uncertainties, along with significant costs and some possible changes in the Army's long-term goals."