- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 2, 2007

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 war-fighting 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 active-duty 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 long-term 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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