- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 5, 2007

In a series of editorials, The Washington Times has been examining the readiness of U.S. armed forces and the unfavorable impact the deterioration in readiness has had on the deployment of Army combat brigades and Marine Corps battalions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who commanded the 24th Infantry Division during the 1991 Persian Gulf War and later headed the U.S. Southern Command, visited Iraq and Kuwait for more than a week last month. In an eight-page after-action report detailing the problems and prospects that the U.S. military faces in Iraq, Gen. McCaffrey sounded alarm bells on the readiness front. Considering the potential for a “disaster” if Congress does not take remedial action, Gen. McCaffrey’s expert analysis deserves to be quoted at length.

Noting that “two-million-plus troops of the smallest active Army force since World War II have served in the war zone,” Gen. McCaffrey warned that “stateside U.S. Army and Marine Corps readiness ratings are starting to unravel.” He observed that “ground combat equipment is shot in both the active and reserve components.” Contrary to upbeat recruiting reports given to Congress in oversight hearings, Gen. McCaffrey candidly acknowledged that “Army active and reserve component recruiting has now encountered serious quality and number problems.” He cited the “significantly” increasing use of “waivers in U.S. Army recruiting standards” relating to “moral turpitude, drug use, medical issues, criminal-justice records and non-high school graduation.”

Reporting that there are “128,000 contractors in Iraq, includ[ing] more than 2,000 armed security personnel,” the retired general reported that “we are forced to use U.S. contractors to substitute for required military functions.” Not only is the Army now enlisting “42-year-old first-term soldiers”; but promotion rates for officers and [non-commissioned officers] “have skyrocketed to replace departing leaders.” Despite the fact that some active units “have served three, four or even five combat deployments,” nearly all combat units in both Iraq and Afghanistan are now being “routinely extended.” Marine battalions regularly return to combat action after spending only seven months stateside re-training and re-equipping. Active-duty Army brigade combat teams return to action after 12 months stateside.

In the coming year, operations in Iraq and Afghanistan will require the second involuntary mobilization of as many as nine National Guard brigades for combat tours. Despite the fact that the National Guard Bureau plans to limit these second involuntary deployments to 12 months instead of 18, Gen. McCaffrey assesses that the Defense Department “will without fail be forced to also extend these National Guard brigades in combat.” Not only are the current active-duty combat deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan “not sustainable.” Gen. McCaffrey talked with many officials who “believe that this second round of involuntary call-ups will topple the weakened National Guard structure.”

The Army has become so desperate to get operating equipment into combat theaters that there is “no longer a national or a theater U.S. Army strategic reserve.” Gen. McCaffrey warned that “the U.S. Armed Forces are in a position of strategic peril.” The current deployment rate of the U.S. armed forces simply cannot be sustained. “We will leave the nation at risk to other threats from new hostile actors if we shatter the capabilities of our undersized and under-resourced Army, Marine and special operations forces,” he concluded.

If Congress does not act, the consequences could be horrific. 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. If we do not aggressively rebuild,” Gen. McCaffrey warned, then “the capability of the force actually deployed in Iraq will also degrade.” At that point, “we are likely to encounter a disaster.”

Now that Congress has rediscovered its oversight powers and responsibilities, it should pursue them with vigor on this issue. The Senate and House Armed Services Committees, which have already done great work investigating the critical issue of military readiness, must now take the initiative and solve this growing problem. They should begin by having a long chat with Gen. McCaffrey.

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