Troop cuts come under fire on Hill Numbers, demands on Army questioned

October 28, 1993|By Richard H. P. Sia | Richard H. P. Sia,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration's blueprint for a smaller post-Cold War military came under bipartisan attack on Capitol Hill yesterday, fueled by a Pentagon official who said the Army must take "a calculated risk" that it will have enough troops to win future wars.

Edward L. Warner III, assistant defense secretary for strategy, told a congressional hearing that the administration has given the military "a hard, tough challenge" by requiring it to cut personnel while taking on demanding peacekeeping missions and retaining the ability to fight two large-scale conflicts at the same time.

There would be trade-offs, he acknowledged. The Army would have to withdraw its troops from peacekeeping operations quickly enough to reinforce other fighting forces if wars broke out in the Persian Gulf and Korean Peninsula, for example.

Despite his assertions that sophisticated weaponry and other "enhancements" would help win wars with fewer troops, Mr. Warner was unable to quell complaints about the administration's planned reductions.

Rep. Ike Skelton, who heads the House military forces subcommittee, said Congress is becoming concerned that the Army's "personnel numbers are going south too fast and too far."

The Missouri Democrat, who presided over the hearing, suggested sarcastically that had Pentagon officials used "third-grade arithmetic," they would see that a smaller Army "would be incapable of responding . . . to a challenge from a latter-day Saddam Hussein."

"I don't think the numbers add up," said Rep. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.

Rep. Norm Dicks, D Wash., doubted the Clinton strategy will work. "The idea that we can tell the American people that we're ready to go fight two major contingencies with that small a force with all these problems in terms of deployment, I just don't see it," he said.

The views of the largely pro-defense panel were bolstered by two senior Army planners, who said that roughly half of all Army combat forces could be committed to "operations other than war" in the next few years. They stopped short of criticizing the current policy but said that increasing numbers of labor-intensive missions have stretched Army resources thin.

"During the past year, we have had between 16,000 and 22,000 soldiers deployed on operational missions in 60 to 75 countries every day of the year. That is almost a 100 percent increase from a year ago and nearly 300 percent since 1990," said Maj. Gen. John Ellerson, the Army's director of strategic plans.

"We are postponing our investments in modernization, base operations and facilities to provide the upfront funding for peace support operations."

Brig. Gen. William J. Bolt, director of force programs, said the Army might have to commit about 141,000 to 156,000 troops to keep 47,000 to 52,000 peacekeepers in Bosnia, the Middle East and other world trouble spots. Those figures are based on estimates that three soldiers must be available for every one peacekeeping position, because of the need to rotate troops.

The totals amount to roughly half of the 311,300 combat and combat support troops likely to be available when the total active-duty strength drops to 495,000, General Bolt said. On any given day, 37 percent of the Army is considered non-deployable because soldiers must support base operations, attend schools or travel to new assignments.

The Army now has 579,000 troops in 14 divisions, but the Clinton defense plan could shrink the service down to 480,000 troops in 10 divisions by 1999.

Defending the Clinton blueprint, Mr. Warner said the size of the cuts was based on advice from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and computer-simulated war games. If one or more major crises erupted, the troops in rotation for peacekeeping assignments could be retrained for fighting and sent to the battlefield, he said.

He would not concede the panel's view that pulling U.S. peacekeepers out of a trouble spot to fight a war would not be easy, quick or diplomatically feasible.

As a hedge, the Army National Guard would provide 70 percent of the support troops in an initial conflict and possibly supplement regular troops in peacekeeping operations, Mr. Warner said. He cited a report by The Sun yesterday that the administration was considering using guardsmen in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

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