Global Policy Forum

Panel Calls US Troop Size Insufficient for Demands


By Thom Shanker

New York Times
September 24, 2004

A Pentagon-appointed panel of outside experts has concluded in a new study that the American military does not have sufficient forces to sustain current and anticipated stability operations, like the festering conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and other missions that might arise. Portions of the study, which has not been officially released, were read into the public record on Thursday by Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, a leader of Democrats who want to expand the size of the military. During testimony by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his top commanders, Senator Reed said he found the study "provocative and startling."

Mr. Rumsfeld said the report was an "excellent piece of work," and that he had ordered briefings on its findings for senior military and civilian officials. But he cautioned after the hearing that the section read by Senator Reed was not a comprehensive synopsis, and that the authors of the study may not be fully aware of the variety of steps under way by the Pentagon broadly to lessen stress on the force, and actions taken specifically by the Army to increase the number of available combat forces without further expanding the military. Senator Reed said the Defense Science Board study found "inadequate total numbers of U.S. troops" and "a lack of long-term endurance." He quoted the report as saying that unless the United States scaled back its stabilization operations, it would have to reshape its forces to "trade combat capabilities for stabilization capabilities" or depend on contributions of troops from allied countries or the United Nations. "If everything we recommend is implemented over the next five years but we continue our current foreign policy of military expeditions every two years, we will begin two more stabilization operations without sufficient preparation or resources," Mr. Reed said in describing the findings of the board, a high-level advisory group.

The study itself was managed by two defense industry executives: Craig Fields, a former chairman of the Defense Science Board and former head of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency; and Philip A. Odeen, another former Defense Department official. "They conclude by saying: anything started wrong tends to continue wrong," Mr. Reed said during a four-hour hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Mr. Reed added that the study raises troubling questions in the event that the American presence in Iraq drags on and new emergencies arise. "Iran and North Korea are provocative," he said. "They very well might cause us to take military action; one hopes not. And then, as you often say, there's also the surprises that we don't even contemplate at this moment."

The issue of long-term deployments to Iraq, and whether the military should be further expanded, have become much-debated issues on the campaign trail this election year. An article published Thursday by Inside the Pentagon, a military affairs newsletter, quoted the study as concluding that "current and projected force structure will not sustain our current and projected global stabilization commitments." In assigning the project to the science board last January, Michael W. Wynne, an under secretary of defense, wrote: "Our military expeditions to Afghanistan and Iraq are unlikely to be the last such excursion in the global war on terrorism. We may need to support an ally under attack by terrorists determined to replace the legitimate government; we may need to effect change in the governance of a country that is blatantly sustaining support for terrorism; or we may need to assist an ally who is unable to govern areas of their own country, where terrorists may recruit, train and plan without interference by the legitimate government."

Under questioning by Senator Reed, Mr. Rumsfeld said the first goal is to maximize the use of troops already in the service by managing them better. Mr. Rumsfeld cited a number of steps taken to ease the strain on the American military, including the shift of important combat skills from the reserves to active-duty troops, and the assignment of administrative tasks to civilians so those in uniform could return to combat duties. Mr. Rumsfeld also complimented efforts by the Army to increase the number of combat-ready brigades by redesigning its divisions into more modular fighting units. But he noted that if the reorganizations fail to field the military forces required by commanders, "then by golly, you're right, we'll have to go to an increase in end strength." In brief comments to reporters following the hearing, Mr. Rumsfeld said the Defense Science Board "did a good job" with the study. Of the sections read into the public record, he cautioned, "You did not get a comprehensive synopsis" but only "a few paragraphs." Mr. Rumsfeld declined to give a more thorough summary of the study.

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