Rumsfeld bumps up U.S. forces by 30,000

Emergency increase, a change of course, stuns House committee

January 29, 2004|BY A SUN STAFF WRITER

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, responding to unusual criticism from a three-star general that the Army is too small to meet its global commitments, has authorized an emergency increase of 30,000 troops, Congress was told yesterday.

Rumsfeld, who had scoffed only last week at the assertion by Lt. Gen. John M. Riggs, a decorated Vietnam veteran who is in charge of building an Army for the future, invoked emergency powers to push the number of troops above the congressionally approved limit of 482,000, known in military parlance as "end strength."

Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army's chief of staff, revealed Rumsfeld's change of course in testimony yesterday before the House Armed Services Committee, many of whom had been pressing to boost the Army's strength by 40,000 soldiers, or the equivalent of two divisions.

"The secretary of defense, I've presented him with the plan," said Schoomaker, who like Rumsfeld had previously denied any increase was needed. "He's given me the authority, he's given me the headroom under his current authorities, to grow the army, not to raise the end-strength but to grow the army, to give me the bump that I need

The testimony appeared to surprise committee members.

"General Schoomaker, I want to make sure I understand some of your comments here today," said Rep. John McHugh, a New York Republican. "The secretary has given you the option of going to 30,000 additional troops, saying that he has waived under the emergency declaration provisions the statutory cap on end-strength. How long does the secretary intend to declare that emergency to waive that limit?

"Well, sir, I'm not sure we can see into the future as far as we need to. But I've asked him to do that for the duration of the emergency, or up to four years. I think I need four years to do this.

"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 told The Sun last week, adding, "I don't plan on going out on any crusade on this issue."

He was the first senior active-duty officer to publicly urge a larger Army, although there was widespread sentiment within the Army that the Iraq war and ongoing military operations in Afghanistan had severely stretched the Army's manpower.

There are about 120,000 Army soldiers in Iraq, a figure expected to drop to105,000 by May, according to the Pentagon. About 330,000 active and reserveArmy troops are deployed to 120 countries, Riggs said. Another 10,000 soldiers are in Afghanistan.

Schoomaker said that temporarily adding the additional soldiers would facilitate his plans to remake the Army by increasing the number of cohesive brigades and increasing their ability to respond rapidly. He said it would improve morale and keep troops from leaving the military once their tour of duty expires.

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