war in Iraq cripples American military
- The following article, attributed to Esther Schrader of the Los Angeles
Times, appeared on page A22 of the Saturday, December 6, 2003 edition of
the Arizona Republic.
IRAQ DUTY STRAINS AMERICAN ARMY TO DANGER POINT
Washington--Its equipment and troops battered from fighting in Iraq, the
Army will allow four divisions returning from combat duty to fall to
readiness levels that would make them not fully combat ready for up to six
months, an Army official said Friday.
The divisions, which together make up more than 100,000 soldiers, 40
percent of the army's combat troops, are reeling from yearlong deployments
fighting a war, then a counterinsurgency that has wreaked havoc with
everything from tank treads to helicopter rotors to nerves.
By permitting the units to drop their guard and recharge, the Pentagon is
taking a calculated risk that it won't be forced to fight a war with a major
adversary such as North Korea on short notice. Not since the all-volunteer
military began in 1973 has the army allowed so many units to fall to such
low readiness levels.
"We have a non-negotiable contract with the U.S. people that our army will
always be ready to fight and win its wars," said the senior army official
who briefed a small group of reporters on the plans Friday on the condition
of anonymity. The briefing came after the Army's plan was disclosed in the
Wall Street Journal. "But this is a fact of life. What we are seeing now
is the operational tempo of our army is going to require time to reset our
equipment, reset our training, reset our soldiers so we can build this army
The four divisions--the 82nd Airborne, 101st Airborne, First Armored and
Fourth Infantry--will be replaced by four other divisions beginning in
February as part of a nearly complete rotation of troops in Iraq and
President Bush could take political heat for the decline in readiness. During
his run for president in 2000, he struck hard at President Clinton for
permitting two small divisions just back from missions in the Balkans to
lower their readiness levels for four months.
Because of the toll that Iraq has taken on the Army's equipment, not to
mention its personnel, it could take six months to bring some units returning
from the war zone back up to speed, the Army official said.
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers said the news is indicative of an Army stretched
too thin by a war it was not prepared for or designed to fight.
"The Army will always march at the sound of the guns regardless of the
condition they are in. But the reality is, they're not going to go with
the same kind of efficiency and force that they were prepared to go six
months or a year ago," said Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island,
who has proposed increasing the size of the Army. "They would have to
scramble, they would have to divert resources that are scheduled to go to
Iraq and Afghanistan, they would have to improvise."
Senior army officials say that while they have not discounted the possibility
of asking for more troops, they are trying to make do with what they have.
Privately, they have expressed concern that the expense of adding soldiers
would force them to draw from funding for modernization and maintenance.
The Army's move comes as the war on terrorism and other commitments are
straining the military for the first time since overall troop levels were
reduced more than a decade ago in the wake of the Cold War.
About 369,000 of the Army's 1.04 million active-duty and reserve troops
are deployed away from home in 120 countries. That includes about 150,000
in Iraq and elsewhere in the Persian Gulf region in support of the war, and
another 10,000 in Afghanistan. Another 5,000 are in the Balkans and 30,000
in South Korea.