- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld sparred from afar yesterday with a Pentagon consultant and former Clinton administration officials who say the Army is in danger of “breaking.”

A report by retired Army officer Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr., who directs the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said the Army could not meet war-fighting missions unless the demands slacken in the coming years.

The report surfaced as former Clinton administration officials and retired officers who backed the presidential bid of Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, put out a similar study saying that the 1.4-million-active-member military is frayed.

Mr. Rumsfeld responded with a combative appearance at a Pentagon press conference. He reminded reporters that during the Clinton years, when the military was sent on about 50 war and peacekeeping missions, that the force suffered from lack of funding and that some units were “hollow pieces.”

The Bush administration has requested huge spending increases for the military, with this year’s budget at $442 billion, plus about $350 billion to fund operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr. Rumsfeld said anyone who concludes that the Army is breaking does not know what he or she is talking about.

“I suspect the people writing these things don’t know, either, because I suspect that they don’t have any more insight than the other people around here do,” he said. “I just can’t imagine someone looking at the United States armed forces today and suggesting that they’re close to breaking. That’s just not the case.”

He said, “The force is not broken … the world saw the United States military go halfway around the world, and in a matter of weeks throw the al Qaeda and Taliban out of Afghanistan, in a landlocked country thousands and thousands of miles away. They saw what the United States military did in Iraq, and the message from that is not that this armed forces is broken, but that this armed forces is enormously capable.”

Mr. Rumsfeld said he was at the White House yesterday, where a group of senators asked about the Army. He said Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, responded that “it’s just not correct” that the Army is breaking.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of the Krepinevich study, which contains one chapter titled “The Thin Green Line.”

The Army has been a frequent target of such criticism. Last year, the active-duty Army and the Army National Guard missed recruiting goals, as the force of 500,000 active soldiers and reserves waged two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, forcing year-on, year-off overseas deployments for many.

Rep. John P. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat, heightened the criticism by calling for a quick pullout from Iraq.

The Army issued a statement that although the force is stressed by commitments in the global war against terrorism, it is far from broken. The Army has met recruiting goals for seven consecutive months, after raising enlistment bonuses to as much as $40,000, deploying more recruiters and changing advertising.