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Underestimating The Costs Of War

Weekly commentary by Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer.

Several weeks ago on Face The Nation, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld bristled when we told him retired officers were complaining that the Army was holding soldiers in the service longer than they'd agreed to serve in order to meet manpower levels necessary to fight the war in Iraq. He first said the officers were misinformed. Later, he said the practice was used only sparingly.

Last week, the Army confirmed it has been forced to adopt such a policy and that thousands of soldiers may have to remain in Iraq longer than they were told they'd be there. The policy also applies to Reservists and National Guardsmen who will soon make up 40 percent of the force in Iraq.

This has come about because the Army is just not large enough to carry out the mission it has been assigned by the White House. The White House does not like to admit that since it confirms that civilian defense officials vastly underestimated the number of troops Iraq would require.

Nevertheless, it is the men and women in the ranks who are paying the price which is not just unfair. It is shortsighted. If we cannot be truthful with enlistees about how long they were expected to serve, they won't re-enlist nor can we continue to ask Reservists and Guardsmen to serve 12-month active duty tours every other year. No one can live that kind of half in the service half out of the service life and few will chose to.

If we're going to fight the war, we must be willing to pay for an Army big enough to do it. We cannot continue to take advantage of the very people who are already putting their lives on the line to defend us.

By Bob Schieffer