Army big enough to do the job, Rumsfeld says

Senior general contended that Army is too small

January 22, 2004|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld brushed aside yesterday a senior general's contention that the Army is too small to meet its worldwide commitments, pointing out that he has used his emergency powers to temporarily boost the size of the force.

"We've increased end strength substantially," said Rumsfeld, using the service term for the total number of soldiers.

The overall increase is about 36,000 troops, accomplished through the Pentagon's emergency order that temporarily bars service members from completing their enlistments or retiring until they finish their duty in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Rumsfeld, after briefing senators on Capitol Hill, was asked by reporters about the comments of Lt. Gen. John M. Riggs, who runs the task force charged with fashioning the Army of the future.

Riggs told The Sun in an interview that the Army was too small and must be increased "substantially" more than 10,000 soldiers, a figure that was approved by the Senate last year but failed to win approval in the House. The general did not say precisely how many more troops he thought were needed.

"I have been in the Army 39 years, and I've never seen the Army as stretched in that 39 years as it is today," Riggs said in the interview, becoming the first active-duty officer to call publicly for more troops.

"We're not shaped and sized to meet all the commitments we're asked to do," he said.

Rumsfeld has said repeatedly that the Army is large enough with its current 480,000 troops to accomplish its missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere when the emergency retention measures are taken into account.

Riggs also disputed Rumsfeld's contention last week that the high pace of operations for the Army amounts to a "spike" in demands on the service. "I see a plateau," the general said.

The defense secretary, accompanied by Sen. John W. Warner, the Virginia Republican who chairs the Armed Services Committee, told reporters he had not seen Riggs' comments.

Warner said the issue of troop strength would be discussed again on Capitol Hill this year.

"This is an issue that will be carefully examined," said Warner. "It will be carefully studied." But Warner said adding soldiers to the Army would take time, "because any acquisitions at this point would be way down the line before they come into the force."

Rumsfeld has said that permanently increasing the size of the Army would be time consuming and costly, with estimates in the range of $1.2 billion for each additional 10,000 soldiers.

The Army's size is set by Congress. Some lawmakers, including Democratic Reps. Ike Skelton of Missouri and Ellen O. Tauscher of California, both members of the Armed Services Committee, have sought to boost the Army's force by 40,000 soldiers.

Tauscher praised Riggs yesterday for speaking out and said she would again urge lawmakers to approve a larger Army.

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