3-star general says Army is too small to do its job

10,000 more soldiers would not be enough modernization, chief says

January 21, 2004|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - A senior Army general, breaking with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his service's own leadership, said the Army is too small to meet its global commitments and must be substantially increased.

Lt. Gen. John M. Riggs, a decorated Vietnam veteran who is in charge of building an Army for the future, said the force of 480,000 must grow even beyond the 10,000-soldier increase that was endorsed by the Senate last year but failed to win full congressional approval.

"You probably are looking at substantially more than 10,000," Riggs said in an interview with The Sun. "I have been in the Army 39 years, and I've never seen the Army as stretched in that 39 years as I have today."

Riggs, the first senior active-duty officer to publicly urge a larger Army, had no specific target for force structure, saying it should be resolved by the Army and Pentagon leadership.

The three-star general said he came to his conclusion over the past year while studying the Pentagon's military strategy requirements, which call for assisting in homeland security, deterring potential foes, engaging in major combat and carrying out peacekeeping operations.

"I don't plan on going out on any crusade on this issue," said Riggs, noting there's a "general agreement" among other senior officers about the need for more soldiers and concerns that an overtaxed Army will hurt recruitment and retention. "It's not my intent to be provocative but to be intellectually honest with my feelings on the strategy and the commitments of the Army."

Rumsfeld and Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army's chief of staff, have repeatedly told lawmakers that such increases are not necessary now, contending they would be costly and time-consuming.

Instead, both are working on a variety of plans to reduce the stress on the Army. One would shift thousands of soldiers performing essentially civilian jobs - such as food services or accounting - and return them to military tasks.

Rumsfeld also said last week that while the Army is stretched thin on such missions as Iraq and Afghanistan, where about 10,000 soldiers are deployed, he views the current pace of operations as a "spike" in activity, not a "plateau."

"I see a plateau," Riggs said, pointing to President Bush's repeated warnings that the war on terrorism would be lengthy. "It appears be a longer-term commitment of forces."

Rumsfeld and his aides have become well known within the military for dealing harshly with dissenters. Last year, he fired Army Secretary Thomas E. White, who had been at odds with him over modernizing weapons systems. When Gen. Eric Shinseki, then Army chief of staff, told a Senate hearing last February that it would take "several hundred thousand" U.S. troops to occupy Iraq, he was quickly slapped down by Rumsfeld, who called that estimate "far from the mark."

Rumsfeld has been particularly combative with the Army, which rebuffed his efforts three years ago to reduce the Army from 10 divisions to eight. The defense secretary has long argued that with developments in satellite communications, precision weaponry and stealth, a smaller force can pack more punch than its larger predecessor.

"What is critical is not always the number of troops; rather it's the capability of the force," Rumsfeld said last week.

Riggs said he has broached the subject of increasing the size of the Army in internal correspondence but has not discussed it with Schoomaker.

"I'm quite sure he's aware of it," said Riggs.

Two weeks ago, Riggs first said publicly that the Army did not have enough soldiers to fulfill its worldwide commitments during a symposium organized by the Association of the United States Army, a private, non-profit educational organization.

He discussed the issue more bluntly and in greater detail in the interview with The Sun.

Eight of the 10 active-duty Army divisions are now rotating in and out of Iraq, while one-third of the Army National Guard's combat battalions have been called to active duty, Riggs said. There are not enough soldiers in the Army to provide for a reasonable rotation schedule of fresh troops into Iraq and for other missions, such as Afghanistan, he said.

There are about 120,000 Army soldiers in Iraq, a figure expected to drop to 105,000 by May, according to the Pentagon. About 330,000 active and reserve Army troops are deployed to 120 countries, Riggs said.

"I know the Army has a problem reaching its commitments today," he said. "We're not shaped and sized to meet all the commitments we're asked to do."

Riggs' comments are certain to add fuel to the movement on Capitol Hill to boost the total number of soldiers, known by the term "end strength," that is set by Congress. Some lawmakers want to add as many as 40,000 soldiers, and 150 members from both houses are supportive of a larger Army.

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