The Army is studying whether to add more combat units to the rotation plan for Iraq and is considering accelerating the deployments for some brigades to meet a top commander’s decision to keep more than 140,000 troops in the country through at least the spring of 2007, Pentagon officials say.
Rather than planning for a big drawdown of 30,000 Army soldiers and Marines this year to a level of 100,000, as field commanders had expected, the two services are now trying to figure out how to keep the equivalent of two extra divisions, or 40,000 troops, in Iraq.
Army Gen. John Abizaid, the top commander in the region, said last week he needed to maintain the higher-than-expected level because of increased sectarian violence in greater Baghdad between warring Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims.
The Army has met Gen. Abizaid’s immediate need for more forces by delaying the departure of a Stryker armored vehicle brigade to Alaska and by calling in a fast-reaction brigade combat team from Kuwait. But a longer-term solution may require the Army to look at adding more units to the rotation mix.
“It may accelerate the pace of deployments, or it may mean looking at calling up additional units,” said a Pentagon official who asked not to be named.
That option may become reality in November, when the Pentagon is expected to identify units that will go to Iraq next year. Currently, Army units deploy for about a year, then spend one year at their home base before going back to Iraq or Afghanistan. The Marine Corps, which patrols restive Anbar Province west of Baghdad, rotates two expeditionary forces every seven months.
The Army is facing more demand for troops at a time when military analysts say it is nearly stressed to the breaking point.
Non-deployed combat brigades are experiencing low readiness ratings due mostly to a lack of usable weapons and equipment. The wear and tear in Iraq is ruining M1A1 tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles, Humvee vehicles and other equipment at such a fast pace that the Army has neither the money nor the industrial base to replace them. A unit’s functioning weapons systems are left in Iraq for use by replacement soldiers, leaving the stateside brigade well below the highest combat rating, according to Army officials and retired officers.
Gen. Peter Schoomaker, Army chief of staff, this summer asked Congress for nearly $50 billion over three years to replace broken equipment in a process known as “resetting” the force.
“We have inadequate Army and Marine Corps combat power to sustain this level of deployment,” said retired Army Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, a highly decorated Vietnam combatant who led the 24th Infantry Division in Desert Storm.
Gen. McCaffrey, who has traveled to Iraq in his role as a West Point professor, said the Army needs an immediate infusion of 80,000 new soldiers added to the active force of about 500,000.
“Not since World War II have we asked the Army and Marine Corps to operate at such a high intensity of deployments with such an under-resourced force,” Gen. McCaffrey said.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has rejected calls from Gen. McCaffrey and other retired generals to increase what is referred to as the authorized end strength approved by Congress each year. Instead, he opted for authorizing the Army a temporary increase of 482,000 to 512,000 active-duty soldiers.
Paul Boyce, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon, said, “The Army has been planning rotation of forces through the year 2007 and is fully prepared to maintain the commitment to press the fight against the enemy while also giving the soldiers as much predictability on future missions as possible. We will meet any need the American public asks.”
Gen. McCaffrey said he considers the ongoing battle for Baghdad a “tipping point” which would decide the war’s outcome. He applauded Gen. Abizaid for upping the force level.
“It clarified the situation,” he said. “Abizaid wants to win. Ambassador [Zalmay] Khalilzad wants to win. What they are saying is [Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s] government is in a fragile state … I think what they are saying is we can’t allow this to come apart on us.”