Forces Strained in Iraq Mission, Congress Is Told: Possible
back-to-back tours looming
By ERIC SCHMITT
New York Times
WASHINGTON, Sept. 9 Senior Pentagon officials told Congress today that American forces were straining in many cases to meet President Bush's security and reconstruction missions in Iraq. Their comments came as the Army announced that the tours of 20,000 Army Reserve and National Guard troops in Iraq and Kuwait would be extended to as long as a year, months longer than many reservists had expected.
The Army's decision reflects in part the Bush administration's failure so far to add to the 22,000 international peacekeepers currently in Iraq. It also reflects the lengthy task of training tens of thousands of new Iraqi security forces to take over jobs now performed largely by American troops.
On Capitol Hill today, the plight of the Army and its reservists who now make up about 90 percent of the 180,000 American troops in Iraq and Kuwait as well as the costs of the American-led occupation, were front and center in a sometimes contentious four-hour hearing on Iraq policy. The hearing today also previewed the debate likely to unfold when Mr. Bush formally submits his request for $87 billion for postwar needs in Iraq and Afghanistan.
At the hearing, Senator James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, said, "We can maintain the current level and maybe not go any higher, but to do this, we have to continue to overwork, in my opinion, the Guard and Reserve."
He otherwise defended the administration's policy against mostly Democratic critics who accuse the Pentagon of botching the postwar planning.
In response to concerns from lawmakers and families of reservists angry over the lengthened deployments, Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged the strains but said sacrifices were necessary in the global campaign against terror.
"We are looking for work-arounds," General Myers told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "But we also have to realize we are a nation at war, and we have to do what it takes in this case to win."
[The United States military said on Wednesday that an American soldier had been killed and another wounded in a bomb attack on Tuesday on their vehicle northeast of Baghdad, Reuters reported. In a separate bombing in the northern city of Erbil, also on Tuesday, one Iraqi was killed and more than 40 people were wounded, including several Americans, Reuters said.]
As the administration prepares to seek another United Nations resolution to attract more foreign troops and financial help, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz struck the most conciliatory note yet by a senior Pentagon official toward giving other countries a say in Iraq.
"We have no desire to own this problem or to control it," Mr. Wolfowitz told the committee. "The more other countries are prepared to contribute, the more they're absolutely entitled to share and control over how resources are used."
Military commanders say they will maintain total troop levels in Iraq at about 150,000 at least through early next year. But with the relatively small number of international peacekeepers and the Pentagon scrambling to recover from its mistaken judgment that large numbers of Iraqi military and security forces would quickly return to duty after the war, the task of securing and rebuilding Iraq has fallen disproportionately to the Army.
About 122,000 of the 129,000 American troops in Iraq are Army forces. But the Army also has sizable troop commitments elsewhere, including Afghanistan, the Balkans and the Korean peninsula, so the unexpectedly large requirements in Iraq have taxed the Army and its support personnel in the Army Reserve and National Guard.
For the first time since the Vietnam War, the Army is facing the possibility of ordering back-to-back combat tours, commanders say. Some units that served in Afghanistan, like parts of the 82nd Airborne Division, had only a few months at home before they were sent to Iraq.
Of the Army's 33 active-duty combat brigades each about 5,000 people 21 are assigned overseas, 16 in Iraq. Of those not abroad, most are already earmarked as replacement forces for other missions, rebuilding their ranks or on emergency standby in case of a crisis with North Korea. Only three are considered to be available.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has ordered the armed services to find ways to reduce the stress on troops. At the hearing today, Mr. Wolfowitz urged lawmakers to give the Pentagon the authority to transfer to civilian or contract workers as many as 300,000 administrative positions now performed by military personnel.
The Pentagon is also reviewing the balance of assignments between active-duty forces and the National Guard and Reserve. The 122,000 Army troops in Iraq include 3,000 Guard soldiers and 5,000 reservists, an Army spokeswoman said. There are 39,500 Army troops in Kuwait, including 5,000 Guard soldiers and 7,000 reservists.
The Army portrayed its announcement of the extension, which was reported today by The Washington Post, as a clarification of a troop-rotation policy that Gen. John M. Keane, then the acting Army chief of staff, outlined on July 23. That policy included yearlong tours of duty for Army troops.
Army officials said today that the tour length referred to both active and reserve troops, whose tours would be measured by time on the ground. In prior call-ups, the one-year mobilization of reservists included training time, as well as time on the ground. The policy affects only those reservists currently in Iraq or Kuwait, and will not affect troops sent in the future, including two National Guard brigades scheduled to go to Iraq for six months next year.
The announcement today deepened the concern of many lawmakers and military officials that over-reliance on reservists could hurt morale. "They are now stretched to the breaking point," Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida, said of his state's National Guard.
And as the demands grow for both active-duty and reserve troops, Pentagon officials are nervously watching the long-term effects on recruiting and retention for both.
So far, however, the Army numbers are holding. Through the end of August, the Army had recruited 67,354 new soldiers, exceeding its year-to-date goal by 307, according to the Army Recruiting Command. In the same period, the Army Reserve had signed up 25,212 people, surpassing its goal for that period by 1,257.
The Pentagon's long-term solution is Iraqi forces. General Myers said today that the United States expected to have at least 184,000 Iraqis in the military or a variety of security services by summer 2005. There are about 55,000 now.