Monday, February 11, 2008


From today's Progress Report:

A Surge Of Military Strain

On Sept. 14, President Bush announced a "drawdown" of roughly 20,000 soldiers from Iraq by mid-summer. But during his State of the Union address last month, Bush signaled that he may halt the troop withdrawals, as he "emphasized the risks -- with no mention of the benefits -- of continuing the cutbacks beyond July." The military is operating under serious strain, with forces over-stretched between fighting two wars and sustaining the escalation in Iraq. A recent report by the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves found that the "military isn't ready for a catastrophic attack on the country." With Bush intent on maintaining escalated troops levels -- even at the cost of the battle in Afghanistan -- and some presidential candidates suggesting staying in Iraq for 100 years or more, the strains on the military are likely only to get worse.

STRAIN OF THE SURGE: Today, Defense Secretary Robert Gates "publicly endorsed the concept of ordering a pause in troop withdrawals from Iraq this summer," saying that "the notion of a brief period of consolidation and evaluation probably does make sense." Gates echoed sentiments from Gen. David Petraeus, who last month indicated that the drawdown may halt after this summer, when troop levels in Iraq reach roughly 140,000. "We will...need to have some time to let things settle a bit," Petraeus said. Yet maintaining such high troop levels is unsustainable. Last month, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey said, "The surge sucked all of the flexibility out of the system." In September, Casey told Congress, "The current demand for our forces exceeds the sustainable supply." The "drawdown" was spurred by necessity. As Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno previously said, "We know that the surge forces will come at least through April...and then we'll have to start to reduce." Speaking yesterday on CNN's Late Edition, former Secretary of State Colin Powell agreed. "My own judgment, looking in from the outside, is that it can't be kept up indefinitely at the size of 140,000," Powell said. "It can't go on at that level much longer."

STRAIN OF LONG DEPLOYMENTS: Last April, Gates announced that he was extending active tours of duty in Iraq from 12 to 15 months. These extended deployments, combined with only 12 months at home between tours, have put undue stress on soldiers and their families. In his testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen noted that "this is the longest time that our All-Volunteer Force has been at war." "Our Service members, in particular our ground forces and their families, are under significant strain," Mullen said. He urged an end to 15-month deployments: "At our current force levels, we cannot sustain these cycles. Fifteen month deployments are too long." He suggested moving "as quickly as possible to twelve months deployed to be followed by twenty-four months at home." "The well is deep, but it is not infinite," Mullen said. "We must get Army deployments down to 12 months as soon as possible. People are tired." In September, Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) introduced a bill requiring soldiers' home rest time to at least equal their active-duty deployment time, but he faced stiff opposition from conservatives. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said he hoped the Senate would "steadfastly reject this kind of micromanagement" because it "would create chaos." Bush threatened to veto the bill, and although 56 Senators voted to approve it, the measure failed. The Army is currently considering a proposal to cut troop deployments back to 12 months by August.

UNREADY FOR NEW THREATS: A sobering report from the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves "concludes that the nation 'does not have sufficient trained, ready forces available' to respond to a chemical, biological or nuclear weapons incident, 'an appalling gap that places the nation and its citizens at greater risk.'" "We must not allow the challenges of today to keep us from being prepared for the realities of tomorrow," Mullen said last week. "There is risk that we will be unable to rapidly respond to future threats to our vital national interests." With over-stretched forces focused on Iraq, the Taliban has regained large parts of southern Afghanistan. "Some way must be found to deal with this perpetual problem of Afghanistan being overshadowed by the Iraq war," Karl Inderfurth, a former senior diplomat in the Clinton administration, said last month. Center for American Progress scholars Caroline Wadhams and Lawrence J. Korb have called for a renewed commitment to the fight in Afghanistan. "Getting Afghanistan right is critical to preventing it from once again becoming a safe haven for terrorists," they write. "This is the war we cannot afford to lose."


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