- The Washington Times - Friday, January 12, 2007

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced yesterday that he is asking Congress to expand the active armed forces by 92,000 members to meet the demands of what the administration says will be a “long war” against terrorism.

“We should recognize that while it may take some time for these new troops to become available for deployment, it is important that our men and women in uniform know that additional manpower and resources are on the way,” Mr. Gates said at a White House press conference to announce a new Iraq war strategy.

Although an increase in “end strength,” as the military’s active force is called, is not directly related to President Bush’s announced new Iraq strategy, it is an outgrowth of the nearly four-year-old war. The stress of deploying Marine and Army ground forces with little rest back home has begun to tear at the fabric of the 1.4 million active force, senior retired officers said.

The 92,000-troop spike is for ground forces, the busiest combatants in the war on terror.

Mr. Gates said he will achieve a 65,000 Army increase over time. First, the 30,000 temporary increase under which the Army has operated will be made permanent. Another 35,000 soldiers will be added at a rate of 7,000 annually for five years. The Army will boost end strength by bolstering recruitment and retention. At the end, the Army will stand at 547,000 soldiers.

The Marine Corps will acquire 27,000 more troops to reach 202,000. It will keep its allotment of 5,000 temporary troops and add 5,000 a year for four years.

Gen. Peter Schoomaker, Army chief of staff, had pressed in recent months for more soldiers, saying the Army was in danger of breaking. His argument did not seem to sway Donald H. Rumsfeld, who as defense secretary approved the temporary increase.

Mr. Gates was more receptive, as was Mr. Bush, after hearing last month from three retired four-star generals who pushed for more soldiers.

Congressional Democrats who criticized Mr. Bush’s plan to increase troops in Iraq nonetheless praised the policy of more soldiers and Marines.

“Every time I had a chance to say we need more Army troops, more Marines, I said it,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, Missouri Democrat, said yesterday at a hearing on Iraq. “And I’m delighted to have the president and you, Mr. Secretary, chiming in this chorus. Our soldiers particularly, I feel, are worn out. This increase is a smart policy. I’m more than pleased to say, ‘Better late than never.’ ”

The reason the Army may be “worn out” is that soldiers typically have spent only one year, instead of the usual two years, back in the States before deploying again to war.

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