By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Senior Army and Marine Corps leaders said yesterday that the increase of more than 30,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan has put unsustainable levels of stress on U.S. ground forces and has put their readiness to fight other conflicts at the lowest level in years.
In a stark assessment a week before Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, is to testify on the war's progress, Gen. Richard A. Cody, the Army's vice chief of staff, said that the heavy deployments are inflicting "incredible stress" on soldiers and families and that they pose "a significant risk" to the nation's all-volunteer military.
"When the five-brigade surge went in . . . that took all the stroke out of the shock absorbers for the United States Army," Cody testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee's readiness panel.
He said that even if five brigades are pulled out of Iraq by July, as planned, it would take some time before the Army could return to 12-month tours for soldiers. Petraeus is expected to call for a pause in further troop reductions to assess their impact on security in Iraq.
"I've never seen our lack of strategic depth be where it is today," said Cody, who has been the senior Army official in charge of operations and readiness for the past six years and plans to retire this summer.
Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, one of the chief architects of the Iraq troop increase, has been nominated to replace Cody. Odierno is scheduled for a Senate confirmation hearing tomorrow.
The testimony reflects the tension between the wartime priorities of U.S. commanders in Iraq such as Petraeus and the heads of military services responsible for the health and preparedness of the forces. Cody said that the Army no longer has fully ready combat brigades on standby should a threat or conflict occur.
The nation needs an airborne brigade, a heavy brigade and a Stryker brigade ready for "full-spectrum operations," Cody said, "and we don't have that today."
Soldiers and Marines also lack training for major combat operations using their entire range of weapons, the generals said. For example, artillerymen are not practicing firing heavy guns but are instead doing counterinsurgency work as military police.
The Marine Corps' ability to train for potential conflicts has been "significantly degraded," said Gen. Robert Magnus, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps.
He said that although Marine Corps units involved in the troop increase last year have pulled out, new demands in Afghanistan, where 3,200 Marines are headed, have kept the pressure on the force unchanged.
"There has been little, if any, change of the stress or tempo for our forces," he said, calling the current pace of operations "unsustainable."
Magnus suggested that if more Marines are freed from Iraq they could also go to Afghanistan. Marines "will move to the sound of the guns in Afghanistan," he said. But he said it would be difficult to keep the force split between the two countries because the Marine Corps has limited resources to command a divided force and supply it logistically.
The Marine Corps is "basically in two boats at the same time," he said.
Both the Army and Marine Corps are working to increase their ranks by tens of thousands of troops -- to 547,000 active-duty soldiers and 202,000 Marines -- but newly created combat units will not be able to provide relief until about 2011.
U.S. soldiers are currently deploying for 15-month combat tours, with 12 months at home in between. Marines are deploying for seven-month rotations, with seven months at home.
Both services seek to give their members at least twice as much time at home as time overseas.
"Where we need to be with this force is no more than 12 months on the ground and 24 months back," Cody said.