By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 13, 2006; A01
The Army and Marine Corps are planning to ask incoming
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Congress to
approve permanent increases in personnel, as senior
officials in both services assert that the nation's
global military strategy has outstripped their
In addition, the Army will press hard for "full access"
to the 346,000-strong Army National Guard and the
196,000-strong Army Reserves by asking Gates to take
the politically sensitive step of easing the Pentagon
restrictions on the frequency and duration of
involuntary call-ups for reservists, according to two
senior Army officials.
The push for more ground troops comes as the wars in
Iraq and Afghanistan have sharply decreased the
readiness of Army and Marine Corps units rotating back
to the United States, compromising the ability of U.S.
ground forces to respond to other potential conflicts
around the world.
"The Army has configured itself to sustain the effort
in Iraq and, to a lesser degree, in Afghanistan. Beyond
that, you've got some problems," said one of the senior
Army officials. "Right now, the strategy exceeds the
capability of the Army and Marines." This official and
others interviewed for this report spoke on the
condition of anonymity because they were not authorized
to talk publicly about the matter.
The Army, which has 507,000 active-duty soldiers, wants
Congress to permanently fund an "end strength," or
manpower, of at least 512,000 soldiers, the Army
officials said. The Army wants the additional soldiers
to be paid for not through wartime supplemental
spending bills but in the defense budget, which now
covers only 482,000 soldiers.
The Marine Corps, with 180,000 active-duty Marines,
seeks to grow by several thousand, including the likely
addition of three new infantry battalions. "We need to
be bigger. The question is how big do we need to be and
how do we get there," a senior Marine Corps official
At least two-thirds of Army units in the United States
today are rated as not ready to deploy, as well as
lacking in manpower, training and -- most critically --
equipment, according to senior U.S. officials and the
Iraq Study Group report. The two ground services
estimate that they will need $18 billion a year to
repair, replace and upgrade destroyed and worn-out
If another crisis were to erupt requiring a large
number of U.S. ground troops, the Army's plan would be
to freeze its forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and
divert to the new conflict the U.S.-based combat
brigade that is first in line to deploy.
Beyond that, however, the Army would have to cobble
together war-depleted units to form complete ones to
dispatch to the new conflict -- at the risk of lost
time, unit cohesion and preparedness, senior Army
officials said. Moreover, the number of Army and Marine
combat units available for an emergency would be
limited to about half that of four years ago, experts
said, unless the difficult decision to pull forces out
of Iraq were made.
"We are concerned about gross readiness . . . and
ending equipment and personnel shortfalls," said a
senior Marine Corps official. The official added that
Marine readiness has dropped and that the Corps is
unable to fulfill many planned missions for the fight
Senior Pentagon officials stress that the U.S. military
has ample air and naval power that could respond
immediately to possible contingencies in North Korea,
Iran or the Taiwan Strait.
"If you had to go fight another war someplace that
somebody sprung upon us, you would keep the people who
are currently employed doing what they're doing, and
you would use the vast part of the U.S. armed forces
that is at home station, to include the enormous
strength of our Air Force and our Navy, against the new
threat," Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, said at a briefing last month.
But if the conflict were to require a significant
number of ground troops -- as in some scenarios such as
the disintegration of Pakistan -- Army and Marine Corps
officials made clear that they would have to scramble
to provide them. "Is it the way we'd want to do it? No.
Would it be ugly as hell? Yes," said one of the senior
Army officials. "But," he added, "we could get it
According to Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top U.S.
commander for the Middle East, the Army and Marine
Corps today cannot sustain even a modest increase of
20,000 troops in Iraq. U.S. commanders for Afghanistan
have asked for more troops but have not received them,
noted the Iraq Study Group report, which called it
"critical" for the United States to provide more
military support for Afghanistan.
"We are facing more operational risk than we have for
many, many years," said Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), a
member of the Armed Services Committee. He called it
"shocking and scandalous" that two-thirds of Army units
are rated "non-deployable." He said the country has not
faced such a readiness crisis since the aftermath of
the Vietnam War.
The U.S. military has more than 140,000 troops in Iraq
and 20,000 in Afghanistan, including 17 of the Army's
36 available active-duty combat brigades. When Army and
Marine Corps combat units return from the war zone,
they immediately lose large numbers of experienced
troops and leaders who either leave the force, go to
school or other assignments, or switch to different
The depletion of returning units is so severe that the
Marines refer to this phase as the "post-deployment
death spiral." Army officials describe it as a process
of breaking apart units and rebuilding them "just in
time" to deploy again.
Training time for active-duty Army and Marine combat
units is only half what it should be because they are
spending about the same amount of time in war zones as
at home -- in contrast to the desired ratio of spending
twice as much time at home as on deployment. And the
training tends to focus on counterinsurgency skills for
Iraq and Afghanistan, causing an erosion in
conventional land-warfare capabilities, which could be
required for North Korea or Iran, officials say.
If a conflict with North Korea or Iran were to break
out and demand a medium to large ground force, the Army
would be forced to respond with whatever it had
The U.S. military today could cobble together two or
three divisions in an emergency -- compared with as
many as six in 2001 -- not enough to carry out major
operations such as overthrowing the Iranian government.
"That's the kind of extreme scenario that could cripple
us," said Michael E. O'Hanlon, a military expert at the
Unable to count on a significant troop withdrawal from
Iraq, the Army seeks to ease the manpower strain by
accelerating plans to have 70 active-duty and National
Guard combat brigades available for rotations by 2011.
Next year, for example, the Army intends to bring two
brigades on a training mission back into rotation. It
is investing $36 billion in Guard equipment in
anticipation of heavier use of the Guard.