Dems Push For More Troops

Democrats launched an effort Wednesday to boost the Army’s ranks by 80,000 troops in defiance of the Bush administration.

Lawmakers from Colorado, California, Florida, New York and other states said the added soldiers are badly needed by an Army overstretched by the war in Iraq, peacekeeping in Afghanistan and other missions around the world.

By giving the service the authority to hire an additional 20,000 active-duty soldiers in each of the next four years, not only will full-time troops get a respite but so will National Guard and Reserve soldiers, the lawmakers said.

“Our troop levels should reflect the fact that we are at war,” Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said in a statement. “Without this bill, we risk asking too much of our men and women in uniform.”

Other lawmakers who sponsored the proposal Wednesday were Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, Bill Nelson of Florida and Jack Reed of Rhode Island. Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., also signed on.

While the Defense Department had no immediate comment on the proposed legislation, Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has repeatedly insisted that the Army has more than enough soldiers to handle its duties, now and in the foreseeable future.

With more than 1 million active and part-time troops _ and only about 160,000 deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan and other terror-war locales _ Rumsfeld contends that what is needed is a reorganization of the force, with fewer troops assigned to outmoded, Cold War-era units and more to special operations and other specialties needed to counter modern threats.

To add more soldiers would be unnecessary and a waste of taxpayer money, he told Congress in February when introducing the Pentagon’s 2006 budget.

“The problem is less the number of soldiers in the Army and more that the Army was poorly organized and has been unable to draw on all forces it has for missions abroad,” Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

But although he made the same argument last year, Congress overruled him and voted to boost Army ranks by 20,000. The new legislation would add another 80,000 over four years.

Doing so “will reduce the need for back-to-back (combat) tours … and lengthy, unpredictable deployments, making the military a more attractive place to serve,” said Tauscher, who like Udall is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Overseas tours of a year or more, plus repeated call-ups of Reserve and Guard units, are drawing complaints from overtaxed troops and their families. Currently, about 150,000 citizen soldiers have been mobilized and are serving on active duty.

In all, the Army now counts about 488,000 active-duty personnel and 500,000 guardsmen and reserves in its force. The service is battling hard to make its recruitment goals this year, but remains 40 percent short of its goal for enlisting new soldiers.

In last year’s battle against an Army increase, the Pentagon said it costs about $1.2 billion to train and equip 10,000 new soldiers for a year. That would put the cost of the 80,000 increase at more than $9 billion.

In his testimony, Rumsfeld warned that it would take several years for any newly mandated troops to be recruited, trained and deployed. Because of that, few would be available to help carry the load anytime soon, he warned.

But Udall said the shortage of troops could leave the country at risk in coming years, as well.

“Our troops are overstretched … and unprepared to meet potential future threats,” he said.

(Contact Lisa Hoffman at hoffmanl(at)