WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Wednesday rejected two new reports - including one ordered by his own office - warning that the Iraq war has strained the Army to the breaking point.
In an "interim assessment" of the Iraq war commissioned by the Office of the Secretary Defense, former Army officer Andrew Krepinevich said the strain of keeping large numbers of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan has reduced the Army to a "thin green line."
Recruiting shortfalls the Army suffered last year and potential problems in getting soldiers with families to re-enlist because of repeat rotations to Iraq put the Army "in a race against time" to bring troops home "or risk `breaking' the force," Krepinevich wrote.
"Serious retention problems have yet to materialize," Krepinevich said, "but there are storm clouds on the horizon. For one, Army divorce rates are up sharply, an indication that repeated deployments are placing severe strains on military families."
Rumsfeld said he hadn't read the 136-page report but "it's clear that those comments do not reflect the current situation. They are either out of date or just misdirected."
Another report by a panel of former Clinton administration national security officials accused the Bush administration of failing to plan the Iraq war properly, failing to send enough forces to pacify the country and failing to adequately equip U.S. troops.
"These failures have created a real risk of `breaking the force' - a force that is critical to protecting and advancing our national interests," wrote the group, led by former Defense Secretary William Perry and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
The group was asked to do the report by the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California and Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada.
Rumsfeld rejected their conclusions, saying the Army had met its goals for recruiting in each of the last seven months even though the goals were raised as part of a plan to boost the size of the force by 30,000.
He added that the Army exceeded its goal for retention - the number of soldiers re-enlisting and officers extending their commissions - in fiscal 2005, which ended Sept. 30.
"The force is not broken," Rumsfeld declared. Moreover, he said, "It's battle-hardened. It's not a peacetime force that has been in barracks or garrisons."
The Army fell 6,667 troops short of its fiscal 2005 recruiting goal of 80,000 and the Army Reserve missed its goal by 4,626.
In response, the service has added thousands of recruiters and dramatically boosted bonuses for enlistment and re-enlistment.
Under a new defense bill approved by Congress, the maximum enlistment bonus is to double to $40,000 for the active Army and $20,000 for reserves. And the top bonus for re-enlistment is to rise to $90,000 for 16-year veterans.
The Army's recruitment goal for fiscal 2006, which began Oct. 1, remains 80,000. In the first three months of the fiscal year, the service exceeded its monthly goals, but recruiting is seasonal and the goals rise steeply as of this month.
The Army's first quarter recruiting goals account for only 11,000 of the annual goal of 80,000 recruits. And the goal for December - when few recruits sign up because of the holiday season - was a mere 700. The goal for January is 8,100.
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said at a news conference held to release the Democrats' report that the Army's failure to meet its recruiting goals last year was just "the leading indicator" of a "huge potential problem for our land forces."
Keeping 138,000 or more troops in Iraq for nearly three years has meant that many have served multiple tours.
Reed said retention has been strong, "but the question remains of how long they can retain these soldiers with the operational tempo at such a peak."
Reed added that the administration's announced intention to pull troops out Iraq this year as Iraqi forces are trained to take over the fight against insurgents could be a case of making a virtue of necessity.
"The administration is redeploying forces, not because the situation warrants it necessarily, but because they just don't have sufficient forces to keep up this operational tempo," he said.
Asked if "the drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq is not entirely based on the ability of the Iraqi forces to take over but partly driven by the need to relieve the strain on the U.S. Army," Rumsfeld replied: "That's just false."
As for Krepinevich's warning that retention problems could emerge if the pace of rotations fails to ease, Rumsfeld said he didn't know if that was the case. "I suspect the people writing these things don't know, either, because I suspect that they don't have any more insight than the other people around here do," he said.
Krepinevich received $137,000 over 12 months for the report, Pentagon spokesman Maj. Paul Swiergosz said.
Asked why the Pentagon pays consultants such as Krepinevich for such reports if they lack insight, Rumsfeld said: "Well, because the way you get the best knowledge and the best perspective is to listen to people with different views."
source: http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/politics/13711518.htm 25jan2006