The following is an excerpt of Lawrence J. Korb’s testimony before the House Armed Services Committee. Korb is Senior Fellow and Director of Military Strategy at the Center for American Progress and a Senior Advisor to The Center for Defense Information. To download a PDF of the full testimony, click here.
Chairman Skelton, Ranking Member Hunter, and members of the House Armed Services Committee, I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you with these genuine war heroes to discuss the situation in Iraq and the current state of the nation’s ground forces. I cannot think of more critical issues facing the nation at this time.
After more than four years of being engaged in combat operations in Iraq and six and a half in Afghanistan, America’s ground forces are stretched to their breaking point. Not since the aftermath of the Vietnam War has the U.S. Army been so depleted. In Iraq, more than 3,600 troops have been killed and more than 25,000 wounded. The Army is severely overstretched and its overall readiness has significantly declined. As Gen. Colin Powell noted last December well before the surge, the active Army is about broken, and as Gen. Barry McCaffrey pointed out when we testified together before the Senate Armed Services Committee in April, “the ground combat capability of the U.S. armed forces is shot.” The Marine Corps is suffering from the same strains as the Army, and the situation for the Army National Guard is even worse.
Meanwhile, the combat readiness of the total Army (active units, the National Guard, and the Army Reserve) is in tatters. In the beginning of this year, Gen. Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, conducted his own review of our military posture and concluded that there has been an overall decline in military readiness and that there is a significant risk that the U.S. military would not be able to respond effectively if it were confronted with another crisis. The simple fact is that the United States currently does not have enough troops who are ready and available for potential contingency missions in places like Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, or anywhere else. For example, when this surge is completed all four brigades of the 82nd Airborne will be deployed, leaving us with no strategic ground reserve. Even at the height of the Korean War, we always have kept one brigade in the continental United States. But it is not simply that so many of our soldiers are committed to Iraq, but that so much of the Army’s and the Marine Corps’ equipment is committed to Iraq as well.
The decision to escalate or to “surge” five more brigades and a total of 30,000 more ground troops into Iraq has put additional strain on the ground forces and threatens to leave the United States with a broken force that is unprepared to deal with other threats around the world.
But the situation facing the ground forces is more than just a strategic crisis—it is a moral one as well. More and more of the burden of the war in Iraq is falling on the men and women in uniform who volunteered to serve this country, and we are putting them in harm’s way without all the preparation and dwell time they deserve.
To meet the manpower requirements called for in the president’s latest escalation, Army and Marine Corps commanders are being forced to cut corners on training and equipment, thus putting additional stress on those in uniform. The unprecedented decision by the Bush administration to extend the tours of Army brigades currently deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan from 12 months to 15 months—something that was not even done in Vietnam, when we had over 500,000 troops on the ground, or in Korea, where we had over 300,000—is the latest illustration of the unreasonable stress being placed on our ground forces.
Before commenting on the recommendations that this committee is considering to relieve the burden on those serving, let me discuss the misuse of the all-volunteer military in Iraq, the rapid pace of deployments, the inadequate amount of dwell time between deployments that is currently being provided to the ground forces, and the impact this is having on the ground forces and their families.