Four-year troop increase might continue far longer

Senior Army official says world crises could require maintaining larger force

January 30, 2004|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- A Pentagon plan to temporarily boost the Army by 30,000 soldiers over the next four years might extend beyond that time depending on the need for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as other hot spots around the globe, a senior Army official said yesterday.

Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army's top general, told Congress on Wednesday that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had authorized an emergency increase of the 480,000- soldier Army to 510,000 until 2008. But the senior official, who briefed reporters on the condition he not be identified, said the higher level might be needed well into future years.

"We may be able to come down from the 510,000 over time," said the Army official. "We won't know that for four to five years. It really depends on the world situation."

Until this week, Rumsfeld and Schoomaker brushed aside calls for increased strength, saying it would take years to accomplish and be costly.

But last week, Army Lt. Gen. John M. Riggs, who is in charge of building the future Army, broke ranks and told The Sun that the force must be boosted "substantially" because the Army is stretched too thin to meet its global commitments.

"Thirty-thousand [soldiers] is on the low side, half of what they need," said Michael O'Hanlon, a defense analyst at the Brookings Institution. "You don't want the Army to start to break before you fix it."

Before the 1991 Persian Gulf war, there were 18 Army divisions. Now there are 10. "The bottom line is when we cut the Army down it was a little too much," said Jack Tilley, who just stepped down as Sergeant Major of the Army.

The bulk of the 30,000 increase in the active-duty Army -- about 20,000 soldiers -- will be accomplished by "stop loss," which bars soldiers from retiring or ending their enlistments for a period ranging from four to six months, the official said.

"It's pretty equal across all the divisions," he said. "It's across the board."

"They're in for tough times," said Tilley of the Army, pointing to long deployments, family separations and the postponed schooling and training for noncommissioned officers who are deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The balance of the additional troops will come from increasing recruiting goals, bringing in about 5,000 more soldiers each year with more financial incentives, although the Army had no immediate specifics on those. The Army just started offering $5,000 to $10,000 re-enlistment bonuses for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Each 10,000-soldier increase will cost $1.2 billion, and the official said the additional funding will come from the $87 billion in supplemental spending for Iraq and Afghanistan that Congress passed last fall.

This year the Army needs 72,500 recruits to maintain its current strength, and the official said the Army is reaching its monthly goals. Still, he acknowledged that the stop-loss efforts could poison soldiers' interest in re-enlisting.

"We worry about it. They're re-enlisting at very high rates. That doesn't mean we're not studying it," he said.

The stop-loss program is slated to end next year, when the Army expects to reach its goal of 510,000 soldiers. After 2005, the Army plans to maintain that number with increased recruiting efforts.

The Army official said that the Pentagon is now working on a rotation into Iraq for 2005 that is expected to continue to have a large percentage of Army National Guard and Reserve forces, along with some active-duty Army soldiers who spearheaded the charge into Iraq last spring.

The estimated 120,000 U.S. troops in Iraq are supposed to be reduced to 105,000 by May, with 40 percent of the troops that are rotated in coming from the Army Guard and Reserve. The rest will be a mix of active-duty Army and Marines. Beginning next year, 30 percent of a U.S. occupation force will be made up of reservists, the official said.

Some of the active Army units that defeated Saddam Hussein's forces will be heading back to Iraq, about one year after they left, the official said. He declined to identify them.

Schoomaker told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday that the planned 30,000 boost is only a temporary fix and balked at moves to permanently increase the overall size of the Army, known as end strength.

"We should not make a commitment to permanent end strength at this time with the cost of that incurred and placed on us in the future years," said the four-star officer.

"The worst thing in the world we should get is legislated end strength that we're forced to meet with our current level of budget."

Some members of Congress reacted coolly to the planned 30,000 increase in the active-duty Army, while defense analysts said a larger number of soldiers is needed.

Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat and Army veteran, who co-sponsored a successful measure in the Senate last year to boost the Army by 10,000 soldiers, called the 30,000-soldier increase "a step in the right direction."

But he said the planned increase was a "convoluted" process and worried that a reliance on stop-loss would adversely affect morale, leaving soldiers to fear, "I can't get out."

Boosting recruiting, said Reed, is going to be "a real financial issue. [The Army] is going to have to put up some big bucks."

The senator criticized the Pentagon for trying to boost the Army "off the books" with emergency funds and said he might still push for a permanent increase in the Army.

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