Army stretched to breaking

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The Marines may be the most celebrated of the American armed forces, but it’s the Army that does most of the heavy lifting, as it is doing in Afghanistan and Iraq. In the process, the Army is being battered and shattered in the same way that it was in Vietnam.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says that isn’t the case; everything’s fine. But a recent authoritative study says he is wrong. Commissioned by the Pentagon, the study was done by Andrew Krepinevich of the independent Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. He’s a West Point graduate who served in a variety of Army roles, including a stint on the strategic plans and policy division, before retiring. He holds a doctorate from Harvard University.

Krepinevich says that coming out of Vietnam, military leaders were determined never again to get bogged down in prolonged small-unit combat. If the Army must fight, it would hit with overwhelming force, achieve its objectives and get out. The need to behave that way was reinforced by the end of the draft late in the Vietnam War. U.S. military forces now needed to focus on their ability to attract new recruits and retain experienced personnel.

That doctrine dictated how the Army was organized for Afghanistan and Iraq. It was totally unprepared to cope with extended battles against insurgencies; the Bush administration’s strategy didn’t take them into account…

     

Krepinevich says the Army can deploy no more than 13 brigades to hardship tours at one time. It now has 19 brigades deployed. To fill the gap, two Marine brigades have been sent to Iraq. “Stop loss” and “stop move” orders have been implemented. The reserves have been well tapped out. Active duty personnel now are commonly on their third rotation into Iraq.

The effects of this flawed strategy have been dramatic. The Army has no strategic reserve to call on if another threat were to develop. Divorce rates, domestic abuse and all kinds of mental and physical problems are on the rise among active duty soldiers. In sum, the Army is headed for a “catastrophic decline in recruitment and retention” unless something is done. The “thin green line,” Krepinevich says, will break. And don’t look to NATO, the United Nations or private contractors for more help, or expect Iraqi forces to develop without many years of effort.

Adding an additional 30,000 to 40,000 personnel, “if aggressively executed, could create a force sufficient to sustain current force levels indefinitely, while maintaining a modest strategic reserve,” Krepinevich writes. But even that wouldn’t help unless the Pentagon’s strategy is changed. From a force organized “to compete as a world-class sprinter,” Krepinevich says, the Army must recast itself to run marathons _ to put a “greater priority on stability operations.” That, he says, will take years, and there are no good options for getting through the transition, even if nothing else happens in the world requiring the Army’s attention.

Thus the Army finds itself just where it was in Vietnam, and without a draft. Its near-term future looks bleak, thanks to the flawed vision of Rumsfeld and Bush.

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