Former Iraq administrator sees decades-long U.S. military presence

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, the former interim administrator of post-conflict reconstruction efforts in Iraq, said Thursday that a U.S. military presence in Iraq should last "the next few decades," but questioned the mix of forces already there and current plans to reconfigure the armed forces as a whole.

Echoing concerns raised by lawmakers at this week's defense budget hearings, Garner said in an interview with National Journal Group reporters and editors that the size of the Army and Marine Corps should be increased by enlarging the infantry or ground forces. And he warned that the current strain on National Guard and Reserve forces deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan could cripple efforts to retain experienced soldiers.

Garner, who previously served as commanding general of the Army's V Corps in Germany and as an Army assistant vice chief of staff for force development, said he does not subscribe to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's vision of a future Army, in which smaller units of soldiers rely heavily on high-tech weapons and communications systems.

"Certainly the high-tech war is faster, it's neater and it works pretty good, but not in all scenarios," he said. "The problem with the Army is they just don't have enough infantry."

The Army's current force structure plan is to move away from the traditional division structure toward self-sustaining brigades equipped to work for any division commander. Rumsfeld has been saying this modular approach to force management means that 75 percent of the Army's brigade structure should always be ready.

But the Army actually needs two more infantry divisions while "the Marines need to be larger," Garner said. He also complained about the downsizing of the Air Force and the Navy, limiting the critical lift capability needed to dispatch troops and equipment overseas.

In addition, Garner worried about the impact extended deployments would have on reserve troops, who have been tested "more than they thought possible." National Guard troops "are going to vote with their feet" and leave what they thought would be a part-time commitment when they enlisted, he predicted.

In his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee Wednesday, Rumsfeld asserted that reports of stress on reservists are exaggerated, noting that since Sept. 11, 2001, the Pentagon has mobilized only 36 percent of the Selected Reserve. Only 7.15 percent have been called up more than once since 1990, Rumsfeld said.

In Iraq, regions patrolled by infantry soldiers and Marines have not seen the everyday violence and security problems occurring in areas assigned to Army mechanized units, Garner said. Soldiers in mechanized units, who are trained not to stray too far from their vehicles, cannot be as effective in Baghdad as infantry patrols on foot, he observed.

Asked how long U.S. forces should remain in Iraq, Garner said, "I hope they're there a long time."

But he made clear that the number of troops in Iraq could be reduced every time an Iraqi army battalion or brigade is activated to take over security operations. Some U.S. military units should be stationed nearby as a "little 9-1-1 force for the guys you put on the street," he said. Other U.S. soldiers would function as advisers, furthering training and development of Iraqi security forces from behind the scenes.

"I think one of the most important things we can do right now is start getting basing rights" in both northern and southern Iraq, Garner said, adding that such bases could provide large areas for military training. "I think we'd want to keep at least a brigade in the north, a self-sustaining brigade, which is larger than a regular brigade," he added.

Noting how establishing U.S. naval bases in the Philippines in the early 1900s allowed the United States to maintain a "great presence in the Pacific," Garner said, "To me that's what Iraq is for the next few decades. We ought to have something there ... that gives us great presence in the Middle East. I think that's going to be necessary."

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