Gates Urges Increase in Army, Marines

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates answers questions from the House Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates answers questions from the House Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
By Ann Scott Tyson and Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, January 12, 2007

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates yesterday proposed adding 92,000 troops to the Army and Marine Corps, initiating the biggest increase in U.S. ground forces since the 1960s to shore up a military that top officers warn is on the verge of breaking from prolonged fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The permanent increase of 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 Marines would cost more than $10 billion annually and take five years to achieve, underscoring the Pentagon's conviction that today's wars and anti-terrorism operations will endure for many years. "We call those 'long war' forces," a senior military official said.

The growth also reflects mounting concern among Army leaders over a deepening readiness crisis, as repeated war-zone rotations have worn out troops and equipment, leaving two-thirds of Army combat units in the United States unprepared to deploy. The active-duty Army would increase to 547,000 troops and the Marine Corps to 202,000.

"It will take some time for these new troops to become available for deployment, but it is important that our men and women in uniform know that additional manpower and resources are on the way," Gates told a packed House Armed Services Committee hearing yesterday. Lawmakers have expressed bipartisan support for permanent growth of the military over the past few years and applauded the proposal.

Gates also announced a politically sensitive policy change to allow the remobilization of National Guard and reserve units, in which thousands of reservists who have already served in Iraq could be involuntarily called up for another tour. The major changes -- both sharp reversals from the direction taken by former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld -- show that Gates is moving on issues that had festered for years at the Pentagon.

Taken together, the decisions mark an acknowledgment of the degree to which the all-volunteer force has been overextended since 2001, despite dire warnings during the 2000 presidential election by Republican candidates George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney that the U.S. military was "overused," "under-resourced" and "in decline."

Yesterday, tens of thousands of soldiers and Marines and their families learned that President Bush's call for additional troops in Iraq means their units will be ordered to stay in Iraq longer than planned, or may leave home early for combat.

To help achieve the surge of 21,500 troops, the Pentagon will extend the service of several units already in Iraq. A Minnesota National Guard Brigade with about 4,000 troops in Iraq will stay an extra four months, until August, and two Marine Corps battalions and a Marine Expeditionary Unit with a total of about 4,000 troops in the country will remain there for two or three extra months, the officials said.

In addition, three Army brigades -- two from the Third Infantry Division at forts Stewart and Benning, Ga., and a Stryker Brigade from Fort Lewis, Wash. -- were placed on orders to deploy to Iraq, and Army officials said they could deploy one to two months earlier than scheduled.

Still, Gates and other senior officials strongly suggested that they could withhold these additional forces if Iraqi leaders do not fulfill their pledges for the surge: to provide nine brigades of Iraqi troops to secure Baghdad and lift restrictions on targeting areas such as Sadr City, as well as some individual extremists.

"The timetable for the introduction of additional U.S. forces will provide ample opportunity early on, and before many of the additional U.S. troops actually arrive in Iraq, to evaluate the progress of this endeavor and whether the Iraqis are fulfilling their commitments to us," Gates said earlier yesterday at a news conference in the Old Executive Office Building.

Both Gates and Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said yesterday that the Iraqi government has agreed to lift political restrictions on U.S. operations and that U.S. forces will be allowed to move freely into some areas they have had to avoid. Pace said operations will begin in mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhoods, with Iraqi forces and U.S. troops working together to clear, hold and build areas throughout Baghdad. A combined U.S. and Iraqi command cell would oversee and coordinate the operations, the senior military official said.

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