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Iraq Troop Boost Erodes Readiness, General Says

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 16, 2007

Outgoing Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker said yesterday that the increase of 17,500 Army combat troops in Iraq represents only the "tip of the iceberg" and will potentially require thousands of additional support troops and trainers, as well as equipment -- further eroding the Army's readiness to respond to other world contingencies.

Although final decisions on deployments have not been made, Schoomaker said, U.S. commanders in Iraq have requested an additional 2,500 soldiers to serve as embedded trainers for Iraqi forces, and 5,000 to 6,000 additional soldiers could be needed to provide logistical and other support to the five Army combat brigades flowing into Baghdad.

"We are having to go to some extraordinary measures to ensure we can respond," he said, but he added that even then he could not guarantee the combat units would receive all the translators, civil affairs soldiers and other support troops they request. "We are continuing today to get requests for forces that continue to stress us."

Schoomaker, in one of his last congressional testimonies as Army chief, also made it clear that he had raised concerns in advance about President Bush's plan to increase troops in Iraq because it would further deplete Army units at home.

"We laid out . . . exactly what the risks are in terms of other contingencies . . . to include my concerns about the lack of adequate dwell time," he said, referring to the fact that active-duty soldiers now spend only about a year at home between 12-month war zone rotations.

Schoomaker noted that Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was "obligated to present any dissenting opinions and he did that, as did we," in discussions on the troop increase with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and the president. Still, Schoomaker added that "our mission now is to support the commander in chief."

Virtually all of the U.S.-based Army combat brigades are rated as unready to deploy, Army officials say, and to meet the immediate needs in Iraq and Afghanistan they are finding it necessary to transfer personnel and gear to those units now first in line to deploy.

"I am not satisfied with the readiness of our non-deployed forces," Schoomaker told the Senate Armed Services Committee, noting that the increased demands in Iraq and Afghanistan "aggravate that" and increase his concern. "We are in a dangerous period," said Schoomaker, adding that he recently met with his Chinese counterpart, who made it clear that China is scrutinizing U.S. capabilities.

The Marine Corps commandant, Gen. James T. Conway, said in the same hearing that his chief concern is that Marines are not training for other types of conflicts beyond the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan -- such as conventional ground wars. "My largest concern has to do with training," he said. "We're not doing amphibious training, we're not doing mountain training," as well as some large-scale exercises, he said.

About 40 percent of Army and Marine Corps equipment is now in Iraq or Afghanistan or undergoing repair or maintenance. To outfit the additional forces for Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army is drawing gear from prepositioned stocks of armored Humvees, tanks and other major equipment that would not then be available for another conflict, Conway said.

Schoomaker stressed the ongoing need for funding to repair, replace and upgrade Army equipment, criticizing funding shortfalls in 2005 and 2006 that forced layoffs and slowdowns in production at Army repair depots.

Even if the United States were to carry out a significant troop reduction in Iraq, Schoomaker said he would advise going ahead with the Army's plan for a permanent increase of 65,000 active-duty soldiers by 2013. "The Army's too small for the century we're in," he said.

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