Army plans no expansion

Secretary says troop level will drop back to normal by 2011


WASHINGTON -- Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey said yesterday that the Pentagon had no plans to ask Congress to increase the size of the Army permanently. He said the service, strained by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, would be able to boost the number of available combat troops by reorganizing from within.

Congress authorized a temporary increase of 30,000 troops in the Army last year, and senior military leaders suggested in recent months that they might try to make the increase permanent to help relieve the stress on the service. The Army has carried the heaviest burden since the Sept. 11 attacks.

But Harvey said that by 2011, the Army plans to return to its previous troop level of 482,000 soldiers, barring a significant military commitment abroad.

Many in Congress have supported a permanent expansion for the Army. But Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has long opposed it, in part because of the cost. The Pentagon estimates that permanently enlarging the Army by 30,000 would cost about $3 billion annually.

One result of the decision, Army officials said, was that the Army would not be shortening combat tours served by soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Generals had hoped to shorten the yearlong deployments, pointing to the effect of 12-month tours on military families.

But Harvey said the Army had decided to keep the length of combat deployments at 12 months. Keeping units deployed longer, Army officials said, allows the Army greater flexibility to reorganize stateside units and to create 43 combat brigades - up from the current total of 37 brigades.

"We've found this deployment time to be the optimum, and we don't have any plans to change from it," Harvey said.

In a wide-ranging interview with reporters, Harvey outlined his plan for increasing the number of combat forces available for overseas deployments by converting noncombat jobs into frontline slots.

Harvey said his plan to avoid requesting more troops from Congress depended in part on the service overcoming current recruiting woes. The Army was nearly 7,000 recruits short of its active-duty goal of 80,000 new troops for the 2005 fiscal year, which ended last Friday.

Recruiters find it difficult to sell potential candidates on the benefits of military life in the middle of a prolonged war.

Harvey said he envisioned another tough recruiting year in 2006, yet dismissed as "opinion" the comments made earlier this year by Maj. Gen Michael Rochelle, then the head of the Army Recruiting Command, that the recruiting mission would be more difficult in fiscal 2006 than it was in 2005.

"I think it's going to be a tough year, but I don't see it as being any tougher than '05," Harvey said. "We've got the same factors influencing the marketplace."

Mark Mazzetti writes for the Los Angeles Times.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.