Nearly four years in Iraq have hammered US army and marines into a skilled counter-insurgency force but has left it unready for war against a conventionally armed foe, US generals warn.
Arguing for big budget increases and more troops, leaders of both military services have made the case in recent days that the US military faces greater risk today if it is called to respond to another major conflict.
“What we are developing right now is the best counterinsurgency force in the world, both army and marine,” General James Conway, commandant of the marine corps, told lawmakers Tuesday.
But “that’s essentially what they’re focused on,” Conway added, because troops have little time to train for anything else between tours to Iraq.
“So we need to be able to train toward other major contingency types of operations, and we’re just not doing it right now,” he said.
General Peter Schoomaker, the army chief of staff, echoed Conway’s concerns at hearing before the House Armed Services Committee.
“I have no concerns about how we are equipping, training and manning the forces that are going across the berm into harm’s way. But I do have continued concerns about the strategic depth of our Army and its readiness,” he said.
Lieutenant General Stephen Speakes, an army deputy chief of staff, told defense reporters this week none of the army’s combat brigades are rated as ready for high intensity conflict.
“If you take a look at the forces not deployed to combat, whether they are active guard or reserve, they have substantial equipping shortfalls, and also some issues with training and manning,” he said.
“What that means then is they are not optimized to be ready to fight a high-intensity conflict,” he said.
“We have been very successful focusing both equipping and training and manning on the units that are going to combat, but those units have been focused on low intensity conflict,” he said.
“Their training program has been almost exclusively focused to that end, and even they are not high intensity conflict certified,” he said.
A “surge” of 21,500 additional troops to Iraq ordered by President George W. Bush will add to the squeeze, particularly if the demand for more troops continues to climb to pacify areas beyond Baghdad, they said.
“If it is indeed a plus-up, it is going to make our future more difficult,” said Conway.
The generals were reluctant to spell out the risk posed by another major challenge elsewhere in the world, referring lawmakers to classified assessments submitted by the militaries.
But in general terms officials said the US military response to crisis elsewhere is likely to be slower and incur more US casualties than called for in US war plans.
“I can assure the United States of America has got considerable deterrent capability,” Schoomaker said.
“Our concern is, when you take a look at some of the plans, that because of the strategic depth problem that we have that it will be slower to execute some of those plans in terms of the timelines that are expected and that there will be a greater crunch in that respect.”
The generals hope the pressures will ease if Congress approves funding for an additional 92,000 troops over five years — 65,000 for the army, and 27,000 for the marines.
The costs of growing the ground forces to keep pace with Iraq and meet a wider range of contingencies will be high, however.
Speakes estimated the army will need an additional 70 billion dollars to grow its forces to 547,000 over five years.
That is on top of the extra 13.5 billion dollars a year the army already is seeking to cover the cost of maintaining and re-equipping its current force.
The costs to the marine corps, which would be increased to 202,000 under the administration proposal, were not known.
Copyright Ã‚Â© 2007 Agence France Presse