By LOLITA C. BALDOR
Up to two-thirds of the Army’s combat brigades are not ready for wartime missions, largely because they are hampered by equipment shortfalls, Democratic lawmakers said Wednesday, citing unclassified documents.
In a letter to President Bush, Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said that "nearly every non-deployed combat brigade in the active Army is reporting that they are not ready" for combat. The figures, he said, represent an unacceptable risk to the nation.
At a news conference, other leading Democrats said that those strategic reserve forces are critically short of personnel and equipment.
"They’re the units that could be called upon or would be called upon to go to war in North Korea, Iran, or any other country or region," said Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., a decorated Marine who has called for a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq.
In a statement released late Wednesday, the Army chief of staff, Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, said much has been asked of the Army during the nearly five years the U.S. has been at war.
"I have testified to the facts about our readiness and I remain concerned about the serious demands we face," said Schoomaker, adding that the Army needs more than $17 billion in 2007 and up to $13 billion a year until two or three years after the war ends.
He said the president, defense secretary and Congress have worked closely in the past on these problems, and "I am confident we will have a way to meet the many challenges that lie ahead during these dangerous times."
Murtha and Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., said they would like to see an emergency appropriation of $17 billion, but they will at least be asking for an increase of $10 billion in the $50 billion supplemental funding for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars that the administration requested for the first few months of the 2007 fiscal year.
Schoomaker and other Army officials have been very vocal about their funding shortfall in recent weeks.
In recent testimony, Schoomaker said that in 2004 it cost $4 billion to repair or replace war equipment, but now it has reached $12 billion to $13 billion. "And in my view, we will continue to see this escalate," he said, adding that the Army is using up equipment at four times the rate for which it was designed.
Schoomaker traced the problem’s origin to entering the Iraq war in 2003 with a $56 billion shortfall in equipment. The Army managed the situation by rotating in fresh units while keeping the same equipment in Iraq. Over time, he said, the equipment has worn out without sufficient investment in replacements.
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