There are about 49,000 people in Special Operations, but at least three-quarters are in support functions, or psychological operations and civil affairs. All told, there are far fewer than 10,000 "trigger-pullers" -- and that small group is shouldering a big part of the war on terrorism.
Special Operations does not even have on hand soldiers qualified to fill the positions it already has, let alone the new ones it is being given, a Pentagon official said. The Army is supposed to man a total of 270 Special Forces A-teams, with 12 troops each, but currently can fill only 225, he said.
Wrestling With the Army
One of the puzzling aspects of Rumsfeld's tenure at the Pentagon has been the running feud between his office and the Army, which traditionally has prided itself on its unfailing obedience to civilian authority.
Some people around Rumsfeld feel that the Army has resisted his efforts to spur change. Some in the Army, meanwhile, feel that Rumsfeld's closest aides are overly fond of airpower and other high-tech weaponry, at the expense of ground troops .
The Iraq war may not help matters, especially because of the prominent criticism of the war plan by retired Army officers. Partly because of their remarks, "the Army is the big loser, politically," coming out of the war, said Daniel Goure, vice president of the Lexington Institute, a military think tank.
The feud may play itself out through a reexamination of some of the Army's most prized weapons, its attack helicopters. Some Pentagon officials already are asking sharp questions about the performance of the Army's Apache attack helicopter in the war. They are most concerned by the events of March 24, in which the Apaches of the 11th Aviation Regiment, carrying out the Army's first attack on the Republican Guard, were beaten back by small arms fire that knocked down one helicopter and hit more than 30 others, effectively cutting short the mission.
"Armed helicopters will, I think, be the big losers" in the aftermath of the war, said one Pentagon official.
"Rotary wing might have some problems," agreed Lewis, the House appropriator. "We're going to want to look very closely at that performance."
The Army is scrambling to refute those worries. "We can't take these small . . . vignettes and lay blame on a weapons system," Lt. Gen. Richard Cody, the Army's operations chief, said in an interview yesterday.
Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, which is more dependent on helicopters than any other big Army unit, said by telephone from Baghdad yesterday that after the initial setback, the Apache and other Army helicopters performed well in Iraq, even in urban combat. "Though Army aviation did not feature as significantly in some of the roles we'd envisioned for it -- particularly in the case of night deep attacks -- our helos did contribute enormously," he said. "In many cases, those contributions were decisive in tough fights."
Beyond aviation, another fight looms between the Army and Rumsfeld over the size of the service. Many in the Army think the active-duty force of 480,000 is too small and worry that occupation duty in Iraq could sap its strength.
But some defense transformation advocates say the Army needs to shrink. In this view, mass is no longer a strength on the battlefield, because it simply presents a larger target.
The argument about the size of the Army and others may be decided by the course of events in postwar Iraq, to which the destinies of the Army and Rumsfeld are now hitched.
"A lot is going to hinge on how the occupation goes," said Cohen, the expert on civilian command of the military, and an admirer of Rumsfeld.