Thursday, January 26, 2006

Bush administration has broken faith with the American soldier and Marine

Rumsfeld rejects criticism on harm to US military

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld defended the state of U.S. military on Wednesday after charges by a former Pentagon chief that wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have left it so stretched that potential enemies may be tempted to challenge America.

"Anyone with an ounce of sense would see it exactly opposite," Rumsfeld said of a report by William Perry, defense secretary from 1994-97, and other senior officials who served under former Democratic President Bill Clinton.

That report and another commissioned by the Pentagon were the latest to warn of a looming crisis for the all-volunteer military amid large ongoing troop deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

But Rumsfeld refused to give an inch. "The force is not broken," Rumsfeld told a Pentagon briefing. "This armed force is enormously capable."
"So I'd read very carefully what these reports are saying and ask yourself the question: Do the authors of them really have a clear understanding of what's gone on in this department in the last five years?" Rumsfeld said.

Perry's report forecast problems recruiting new soldiers and retaining current ones as troops face repeated overseas combat tours, and cited critical equipment shortfalls. It said the Army and Marine Corps cannot sustain the current operational tempo indefinitely without sustaining real damage.

"If the strain is not relieved, it will have highly corrosive and long-term effects on the military," Perry told a news conference.

"We believe that the Bush administration has broken faith with the American soldier and Marine," the report said, citing poor planning for bringing stability to Iraq, too few troops there to do so at an acceptable level of risk, and inadequate equipment and protection for deployed troops.

It said these failures caused "a real risk of 'breaking the force.'"

The report's contributors included former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; former national security adviser Samuel Berger; retired Army Gen. John Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, former supreme allied commander of NATO.


"The absence of a credible strategic reserve in our ground forces increases the risk that potential adversaries will be tempted to challenge the United States," the report said.

"Although the United States can still deploy air, naval, and other more specialized assets to deter or respond to aggression, the visible overextension of our ground forces could weaken our ability to deter aggression."

Albright said the situation limited U.S. options in dealing with the likes of North Korea and Iran.

Rumsfeld said he had not read the report but argued its criticisms were "either out of date or just misdirected."

"I would say that it (the military) is not only capable of functioning in a very effective way and, therefore, ought to increase the deterrent rather than weaken it. In addition, it's battle-hardened and is not a peacetime force that has been in barracks or garrisons," Rumsfeld said.

The separate report, commissioned by the Pentagon, also warned of damage to the Army amid the ongoing deployments and suggested the forecast decrease in the number of troops in Iraq this year was intended to reduce the strain on the Army. It was written by Andrew Krepinevich, a retired Army officer and leading think tank expert.

(Additional reporting by Vicki Allen)