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Combat-Ready? Sir, No, Sir.

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Army Chief General George Casey admitted yesterday at the first Family Forum of the Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting that the army is “out of balance” and requires at least three or four years to regain the levels of training, troops, and equipment needed to be fully operational. The U.S. Army is overworked and overextended, and despite the Bush administration’s rhetoric, the lack of resources and faulty policies that put troops in danger are too often over-looked.

The Center for American Progress has been sounding this alarm for the past year and a half. The army—composed of active units, the Army Reserve, and the National Guard—has not been this stretched since the Vietnam War. As of now, over 3,800 troops have lost their lives and over 25,000 have been wounded.

To reduce more tragic loss of life in Iraq, the Center for American Progress recommends Congress take the following actions:

  • Require that the president provide Congress with written justification whenever he deploys forces classified as “not combat ready.”
  • Clarify the law that allows the president to mobilize Guard and Reserve units and make it clear that deployment time cannot exceed two years in total without congressional approval.
  • Require that the president also supply written justification whenever an Army unit is deployed more than 12 months or a Marine unit is deployed more seven months.
  • Amend the supplemental budget to revoke “stop-loss” policy. Stop-loss prohibits military personnel from leaving their units from the time of deployment notice until three months after the deployment ends. It functions as a backdoor draft, since personnel whose terms of enlistment have expired cannot leave during the deployment time frame.

These actions are critical for the restoring the readiness of our armed forces. Although the four-year conflict in Iraq has caused significant damage to our military, the surge of five brigades, or 30,000 troops, this summer only strained the forces further. Worse, the surge has failed to meet the political objectives it was designed to hasten.

Troops deployed to Iraq now face tours of 15 months, instead of the usual 12 months. Even during Vietnam and Korea, when the U.S. had double the number of ground forces, tours did not extend to 15 months. The tours are temporary until the Army evaluates the full impact of changing back to one-year tours, said General Casey. Still, faced with a perpetual crunch for more manpower, the army cannot provide essential training aspects or give troops the vital rest they deserve with families and friends.

Without adequate dwell time for rest and training, the U.S. Army is unprepared to effectively meet potential crises at home or abroad. There simply is not enough opportunity for troops to train in other kinds of warfare and too much of our operational equipment and forces are bogged down in Iraq. As it stands, the army would be severely strained to confront challenges in North Korea, Iran, or Pakistan, said CAP Senior Fellow Lawrence J. Korb in testimony to Congress this July.

Even now, U.S. troops are entering volatile urban combat settings in Iraq without proper training time, without appropriate amounts of personnel support, and without valuable equipment, such as body armor and armored vehicles. By failing to heal the army, President Bush and Congress are putting the troops in more danger and leaving the country at greater risk of long-term threats.

Gen. Casey’s admission echoes similar statements from former Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell and Gen. Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In light of this, Congress should make efforts now to re-evaluate and redefine the U.S. mission in Iraq. Without serious policy changes, the United States will continue to sink troops and resources into escalating civil conflict, crippling our army, and exhausting the resources necessary to repair it. The time to drawdown is now, before the more unnecessary loss of life and before the United States must face a serious threat without the strength of a truly “combat-ready” army.

 

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