Experts: Force increases may not be enough

The Senate Armed Services Committee heard testimony Tuesday that increasing the size of the Army and Marine Corps may not resolve severe and growing personnel problems. There was even talk of returning to the draft to fill the ranks.

“It is better to take a smaller force than to lower your standards,” said Lawrence Korb, a former senior Pentagon personnel official now affiliated with the Center for Defense Information and the Center for American Progress.

“The current use of ground forces in Iraq represents a complete misuse of the all-volunteer military,” he said.

The all-volunteer force was never designed for a protracted ground war, but that is exactly what it faces, he said.

“If the United States is going to have a significant component of its ground forces in Iraq over the next five, 10, 15 or 30 years, then the responsible course is for the president and those supporting this open-ended and escalated presence in Iraq to call for reinstating the draft.”

The draft, though, is one of those political dirty words that most lawmakers don’t want to hear.

Sen. John Warner, R-Va., the former armed services committee chairman and former Navy secretary, said he cannot imagine a circumstance under which Congress would order a military draft.

“We must, at all cost, preserve the all-volunteer force,” Warner said.

Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, an international relations professor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., described what he sees as the “disastrous state” of ground forces, a broken commitment to troops because of broken equipment, missed training and his sense that the 95,000 increase in Army and Marine Corps personnel planned over the next five years isn’t fast enough to provide relief.

The 95,000 — 65,000 soldiers and 30,000 Marines by 2012 — are not enough, he said, because of the extraordinary means used to field forces. This includes having 20,000 Navy and Air Force personnel assigned to traditionally ground-force missions such as convoy duties and guarding detainees, using stop-loss to prevent people from leaving the military when their obligation has ended, recalling people from the Individual Ready Reserve — who “in many cases” did not even have a relevant military skill, McCaffrey said — and relying on contractors and civilians to replace military personnel, both in combat theaters and even for stateside assignments such as being instructors for military training.

“For the first time since Vietnam, we are caught with no strategic reserve. We simply do not have a strategic fallback position for the crisis that will come inevitably,” McCaffrey warned.

McCaffrey, like Korb, worries about the quality of recruits.

“Ten percent of Army recruits are of low caliber and do not belong in uniform,” he said, noting that the number of moral waivers has increased, the percentage of high school graduates has dropped, and the average age of first-time enlistees is rising.

Because of concerns about who is being recruited and even who is being retained, Andrew Krepinevich of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments said he is not even certain it is wise to make the planned 95,000 increase.

“There are very likely clear limits on the size of an all-volunteer ground force the Army and Marine Corps can achieve without dramatically increasing the pay and bonuses of soldiers and Marines,” Krepinevich said. The average cost of supporting a soldier has more than doubled over the last five years, he said, in part because of big bonus increases, but “there are worrisome indicators that the quality of the force has declined, perhaps significantly.”

Like Korb, Krepinevich mentioned a military draft as a possibility. Another suggestion from Krepinevich was to “welcome” foreigners to serve in the U.S. military in exchange for citizenship.

Korb had two suggestions beyond the draft, both controversial. One would be to drop the military’s prohibition on openly homosexual people serving in the military.

“Over the past 10 years, more than 10,000 personnel have been discharged as a result of this policy, including 800 with skills deemed mission critical, such as pilots, combat engineers and linguists,” he said.

Second, Korb would drop gender restrictions on some direct-combat occupations.

“The idea that women who possess the requisite mental and physical skills should somehow be protected from the dangers of combat fails to acknowledge the reality of the modern battlefield and the role women are already playing in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Korb said.

Comment: Any person who has made an objective study of the progress of the military campaign in Iraq can see with great clarity that the United States has lost the war. No occupied territory is considered safe from insurgents activities, the Iraqi power grid had been so damaged as to be virtually useless, oil shipments have been interdicted on a regular basis, American military and Iraqi civilian casualties are soaring and have never lessened, the country is in the midst of a raging religious civil war and there is absolutely nothing the Bush Administration can do about it. Given the beleaguered Bush’s total incompetence, this regional war bids fair to spread throughout the area with potential disastrous consequences. The notorious “surge” intended to at least pacify Baghdad long enough to permit a dignified “retreat with honor” for Bush has proven to be a complete failure. I wonder how many more dead Americans (Iraqis don’t matter) are to die or be maimed for life before that tiny rat in the Oval Office flees for his life to his rancho in Paraguay? BH