The U.S. Army has rated two of its 10 divisions as unprepared for war in a classified evaluation that reflects the strain of open-ended troop commitments in Bosnia, Kosovo and elsewhere, Pentagon officials disclosed yesterday.
This is the first time in at least seven years that any of the Army's divisions has received the lowest of four possible readiness grades, the officials said. The "C-4" rating means that the units in question--the 10th Mountain Division based at Fort Drum, N.Y., and the 1st Infantry Division headquartered in Germany--are considered to need additional manpower, equipment or training before being able to fight in a major regional war.
The move stunned senior Pentagon civilians and members of Congress, who were informed of the monthly ratings within the past week. Republican lawmakers, who have accused the Clinton administration of underfunding defense and overcommitting U.S. forces, seized on the report as proof of their argument. But some Pentagon officials portrayed the evaluation as a dramatic effort by the Army to highlight long-standing concerns and lobby for more money.
Army authorities acknowledged that the two divisions probably are more ready to fight than the new evaluation would suggest. They said the primary reason for the C-4 rating is that each division has one brigade, up to half of its troops, doing peacekeeping duty in the Balkans: the 10th Mountain in Bosnia, the 1st Infantry in Kosovo.
The Army has been rotating troops into and out of the Balkans for nearly four years, so there has been no sudden change in the underlying situation. But the preparedness of the units was assessed differently this month as a result of congressional directions to place greater emphasis on the ability of U.S. forces to wage two major wars at nearly the same time, officials said.
In the past, the Army designated which units would substitute, in the event of war, for those on peacekeeping duty. This time, an Army general said, the substitutions were less clearly defined for division commanders, which was one technical factor in the lower rating.
In addition, the general said, planning to pull U.S. troops out of the Balkans was easier in the past than it is now. He cited the large numbers of troops and amounts of equipment in Kosovo, which NATO forces occupied in June, and the physical challenges of shipping them out through Greek ports.
While some Pentagon officials sought to play down the significance of the ratings, congressional Republicans appeared eager to capitalize on what they viewed as fresh evidence of eroding readiness and administration mismanagement of the military.
"Over the past several years, the readiness of the Army has been deteriorating as a result of insufficient funding and a foreign policy that has committed military personnel to areas where we have no vital security interests," said Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on readiness. "This deterioration makes it unlikely that these units would be able to engage in a major theater war without unnecessary loss of life."
In addition to the rock-bottom ratings for the two divisions, Inhofe said that some of the Army's other eight divisions also had been downgraded, with none listed at the highest level of C-1. The Army said that all the other divisions were rated C-2 in the monthly report.
Rep. Herbert H. Bateman (R-Va.), who heads the House Armed Services subcommittee on readiness, hailed the Army's new figures, which he said followed years of urgings from his panel for more realistic and honest Pentagon assessments.
"We've finally, I think, made some headway," he said. "There is progress in getting better reporting that more accurately reflects the condition of the forces."
Previous reports of sagging readiness, while not as stark, have helped transform the subject of combat preparedness in recent years from an important but arcane military matter into an issue that has hounded the Clinton administration during an extended period of GOP control of Congress.
Last year, top Pentagon authorities acknowledged that readiness generally was eroding as a result of increased demands--mainly peacekeeping missions--on a military that has shrunk by more than a third since the end of the Cold War. Both the administration and Congress moved to provide extra funds.
Earlier this week, in another move to bolster readiness, Army leaders announced plans to raise manpower in combat units to 100 percent of authorized levels, requiring a shift in soldiers from some support units. The Army also intends to make greater use of National Guard and Reserve troops to relieve active-duty forces in the Balkans.