Iraq can `break' Army, general says

Boost active forces or remobilize reserves, chief of staff urges

December 15, 2006|By Julian E. Barnes | Julian E. Barnes,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- The Army's top general said yesterday that the mission in Iraq "will break" the Army without an expansion of the size of the active-duty force or the remobilization of the National Guard and Reserves.

Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, said the all-volunteer Army is being tested by a schedule with less than a year at home for active-duty units between deployments to Iraq.

Boosting the size of the active-duty force would be expensive, and remobilizing the guardsmen and reservists who have already served in Iraq would be controversial and politically unpopular.

But the high operational demand placed on the Army is unlikely to end soon, Schoomaker said. And without sending reservists to Iraq for more tours or expanding the size of the active-duty Army, it would be difficult to meet the overseas demands.

The Army is officially allowed to have 482,000 soldiers, but Congress has temporarily authorized it to grow by 30,000. So far, the Army has added 25,000 soldiers.

Testifying before the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, created by Congress to examine challenges facing the reserve component, Schoomaker did not say precisely how much he wanted to expand the Army. But he said "current demand" made an increase "a wise and prudent action." His remarks left open the possibility that the Army will seek an increase beyond its current limit of 512,000.

"If the nation decides to further increase the size of the Army, it will take a significant amount of time and commitment from the nation," he said. "Optimistically, we could add 6,000 to 7,000 soldiers per year."

Last month, Marine Corps Gen. James Conway said an increase in his force is under consideration, and funding for a temporary boost in the size of the Corps could be included in next year's supplemental budget request.

Some outside experts, notably Frederick W. Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute, have suggested expanding the Army by a division, about 20,000 people, a year until it reaches 750,000. Kagan said that from 1979 to 1991, America had an all-volunteer active-duty force of 780,000.

"The president is going to have to call on the young people of this nation to come out and support this effort," Kagan said.

Other experts say that could be done, but building up the Army during an increasingly unpopular war would require large bonuses and pay increases that would eat into the military budget.

Kagan has proposed building up the Army in part to allow sending additional forces into Iraq.

In a proposal outlined yesterday, Kagan said that, by speeding up rotations and extending tours, the Army and Marine Corps could add 30,000 combat troops in 2007.

Army officials have been talking privately for months about the need to send National Guard and Reserve units back for second tours. But Schoomaker's remarks were the most forceful public presentation yet about the need to tap the reserves further.

Typically reservists must be mobilized for at least 18 months in order to serve in Iraq, six months to train and a year to serve in the war zone. Under current practice, the National Guard and Reserve can be mobilized for only a single tour in Iraq. Schoomaker said almost all reserve units have been called once since Sept. 11, 2001.

Julian E. Barnes writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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