Military Experts Say Iraq War Is Seriously Damaging Forces

In a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing yesterday on Army and Marine Corps preparedness, retired Maj. Gen. Robert Scales testified that two thirds of regular brigades and "virtually all of our reserve brigades are not combat-ready."

He added that "the stress of back-to-back deployments has created uncertainty and anxiety among military families that is affecting the morale and resolve of those who we will rely on to fight the Long War for a generation."

Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, added in the hearing that the decision for a surge--to increase the number of ground troops in Iraq--"threatens to leave the United States with a broken force that is unprepared to deal with other threats around the world." He further testified that Army and Marine commanders "will only be able to provide these additional troops by cutting corners on training and equipment and by putting additional stress on those in uniform."

Korb said that while Secretary of Defense Robert Gates's decision to expand the Army and Marines is "long overdue," how to expand the forces without relaxing standards is tricky. To ensure those standards, he said, "the current target of adding 7,000 soldiers and 5,000 Marines per year is too ambitious in light of current circumstances and should be scaled back."

Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, a witness recently back from Iraq, added that the Army has used "a backdoor draft to keep 70,000 soldiers in the Army with the stop-loss program beyond their voluntary commitment.

"We have jerked 20,000 sailors and airmen into ground combat roles," he said, "and taken them away from their required air- and sea-power duties. We have recalled as many as 15,000 IRR [individual readiness reserve]. In many cases these people had no current, relevant military skills. They were simply needed as bodies."

He added that the decision to extend Army tours from one year to 15 months was "a good call" but that the war in Iraq, as it stands, is "going badly." He urged patience, calling Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, "brilliant" and adding that the general needs "time and space" to use "new methods and equipment" to strengthen Iraqi security forces and stabilize the country.

By Anna Mulrine