The Washington Post and Associated Press Wednesday reported that a recent classified assessment placed the 10th Mountain Division, based at Fort Drum, N.Y., and the 1st Infantry Division, based in Germany, at "C-4," the lowest of four possible readiness levels.
Although the C-4 rating technically means the divisions are not ready for combat in a major conflict, the Pentagon official said the Army has a plan for increasing the manpower of the 10th Mountain Division and the 1st Infantry Division in the event they were called upon to participate in a major war.
"We're not denying that we're a little bit low" in the readiness of those two divisions, an anonymous official told the Associated Press. "But this doesn't mean the world is falling down on us. We've got a backup plan for them."
The official said lowering the ratings for the two divisions was part of a broader administrative change in the way the Army calculates the war-readiness of its units. In the case of the 10th Mountain Division and the 1st Infantry Division, they are only slightly less ready for war than before, the official said.
Those two divisions each have about half of their troops involved in peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Kosovo.
Retired U.S. Army Col. David Hackworth, a critic of military readiness, said the Pentagon brass should not be surprised that two of the army's ten divisions are classified as unprepared for war.
"We have not a hollow army, we have a transparent army," Hackworth told CBS News Correspondent Howard Arenstein. "And if it would meet the enemy, it would get clobbered."
Hackworth says he has doubts about all of the Army's divisions, but CBS News Military Consultant Perry Smith, a retired U.S. Army Major General, disagrees.
"You still have other divisions that are combat capable, plus you have the reserve and the guard that have good capabilities," he told CBS Radio News.
And besides, Smith says, recent wars have been fought in the air, not on the ground.
The Washington Post first disclosed the classified assessment of the two divisions' readiness ratings in its Wednesday editions. The newspaper said some Pentagon officials portrayed the evaluation as a dramatic effort by the Army to highlight long-standing concerns about a manpower shortage and to lobby for more money.
The Army and other branches of the military have long acknowledged that peacekeeping duties, such as those in Bosnia and Kosovo, dull the war-fighting edge of the troops involved and put a strain on training for war missions. They have adjusted by regularly rotating troops out of peacekeeping duty.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki, in congressional testimony last month on the readiness of U.S. forces, said the Amy suffers from a "mismatch between what we are asked to do, and the troops we have to do it with."
On Monday, Shinseki announced that he intends to fill all 10 active-duty divisions to 100 percent of their authorized levels of enlisted soldiers, up from about 85 percent in recent years, to increase their war readiness.