An overworked military nears its breaking point

The U.S. Army, stretched too thin by George W. Bush’s wars,  cannot win the conflict in Iraq and may reach the breaking point because of reckless deployment by an overstretched Pentagon trying to keep up with the administration’s reckless planning, a study by a retired Army officer shows.

Stretched by frequent troop rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan, the
Army has become a “thin green line” that could snap unless relief comes
soon, says Andrew Krepinevich, the retired officer who wrote the report under a Pentagon contract..

Krepinevich concluded that the Army cannot sustain the pace of troop deployments to
Iraq long enough to break the back of the insurgency. He also suggested
that the Pentagon’s decision, announced in December, to begin reducing
the force in Iraq this year was driven in part by a realization that
the Army was overextended.

As evidence, Krepinevich points to the
Army’s 2005 recruiting slump _ missing its recruiting goal for the
first time since 1999 _ and its decision to offer much bigger
enlistment bonuses and other incentives.

“You really begin to
wonder just how much stress and strain there is on the Army, how much
longer it can continue,” he said in an interview. He added that the
Army is still a highly effective fighting force and is implementing a
plan that will expand the number of combat brigades available for
rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The 136-page report represents
a more sobering picture of the Army’s condition than military officials
offer in public. While not released publicly, a copy of the report was
provided in response to an Associated Press inquiry.

his level of concern about strain on the Army, Krepinevich titled one
of his report’s chapters, “The Thin Green Line.”

He wrote that
the Army is “in a race against time” to adjust to the demands of war
“or risk `breaking’ the force in the form of a catastrophic decline” in
recruitment and re-enlistment.

Col. Lewis Boone, spokesman for
Army Forces Command, which is responsible for providing troops to war
commanders, said it would be “a very extreme characterization” to call
the Army broken. He said his organization has been able to fulfill
every request for troops that it has received from field commanders.

But other military leaders privately agree that the American military is in deep trouble, its spirit broken by declining morale in Iraq and its resolve devastated by realization that the Iraq war cannot be won.

Krepinevich assessment is the latest in the debate over whether the
wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have worn out the Army, how the strains
can be eased and whether the U.S. military is too burdened to defeat
other threats.

Rep. John Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat and
Vietnam veteran, created a political storm last fall when he called for
an early exit from Iraq, arguing that the Army was “broken, worn out”
and fueling the insurgency by its mere presence. Administration
officials have hotly contested that view.

George Joulwan, a retired four-star Army general and former NATO commander, agrees the Army is stretched thin.

they’re broken or not, I think I would say if we don’t change the way
we’re doing business, they’re in danger of being fractured and broken,
and I would agree with that,” Joulwan told CNN last month.

did not conclude that U.S. forces should quit Iraq now, but said it may
be possible to reduce troop levels below 100,000 by the end of the
year. There now are about 136,000, Pentagon officials said Tuesday.

an Army of about 500,000 soldiers _ not counting the thousands of
National Guard and Reserve soldiers now on active duty _ the commitment
of 100,000 or so to Iraq might not seem an excessive burden. But
because the war has lasted longer than expected, the Army has had to
regularly rotate fresh units in while maintaining its normal training
efforts and reorganizing the force from top to bottom.

analysis, while consistent with the conclusions of some outside the
Bush administration, is in stark contrast with the public statements of
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and senior Army officials.

Secretary Francis Harvey, for example, opened a Pentagon news
conference last week by denying the Army was in trouble. “Today’s Army
is the most capable, best-trained, best-equipped and most experienced
force our nation has fielded in well over a decade,” he said, adding
that recruiting has picked up.

Rumsfeld has argued that the experience of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan has made the Army stronger, not weaker.

Army is probably as strong and capable as it ever has been in the
history of this country,” he said in an appearance at the Paul H. Nitze
School of Advanced International Studies in Washington on Dec. 5. “They
are more experienced, more capable, better equipped than ever before.”

said in the interview that he understands why Pentagon officials do not
state publicly that they are being forced to reduce troop levels in
Iraq because of stress on the Army. “That gives too much encouragement
to the enemy,” he said, even if a number of signs, such as a recruiting
slump, point in that direction.

Krepinevich is executive director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a nonprofit policy research institute.

said he concluded that even Army leaders are not sure how much longer
they can keep up the unusually high pace of combat tours in Iraq before
they trigger an institutional crisis. Some major Army divisions are
serving their second yearlong tours in Iraq, and some smaller units
have served three times.

Michael O’Hanlon, a military expert at
the private Brookings Institution, said in a recent interview that
“it’s a judgment call” whether the risk of breaking the Army is great
enough to warrant expanding its size.

“I say yes. But it’s a judgment call, because so far the Army isn’t broken,” O’Hanlon said.