Ex-Clinton officials warn of declining military readiness

Former top Clinton administration officials on Wednesday joined a growing chorus concerned that operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are straining U.S. ground forces and hindering the military's ability to recruit.

Former Defense Secretary William Perry and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright warned in a 15-page report that the Army and Marine Corps cannot sustain the current operational tempo without "doing real damage to their forces."

Speaking at a news conference to release the study, Albright said she is "very troubled" the military will not be able to meet demands abroad. Perry warned that the strain, "if not relieved, can have highly corrosive and long-term effects on the military."

Their conclusions diverged from recent statements about military readiness by Pentagon leaders and Army officials.

But Albright and Perry echoed many of the findings in a Pentagon-requested study conducted by retired Army Col. Andrew Krepinevich, executive director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. Krepinevich concluded in his study, first reported by the Associated Press Tuesday, that the Army is overextended and cannot sustain large deployments to Iraq well into the foreseeable future.

The Perry/Albright report specifically recommends enlarging the Army's active-duty force by 30,000 troops and creating 48 combat brigades -- six more than the service now plans. The former officials recognize that, given the Army's failure to meet recruiting goals in 2005, substantially increasing the size of the force will take time.

It would come with a hefty price tag: about $1.5 billion to stand up and equip each new brigade, according to the study. Army leaders have opposed efforts in Congress to authorize a much larger force, arguing that doing so would jeopardize their high-priced plans to transform the service technologically.

To save money, Army leaders have requested funding for 333,000 National Guard troops in fiscal 2007 -- 17,000 less than the Guard's authorized end-strength. While that will not result in any immediate cuts in the force, which has fallen to 333,000 troops, it already has sparked a flurry of opposition from state and federal lawmakers.

"When you have oversized missions, undersizing your force doesn't make sense," Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said Wednesday.

Aside from personnel, the Albright/Perry study estimates that rehabilitating worn-out equipment would cost $40 billion over the next four year at the same time the military is trying to modernize and replace aging technology and equipment. The study calls for full funding for all so-called reset programs, and warns that anticipated equipment rehabilitation costs may be required well after the last supplemental appropriations for Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Congress must ensure that even when supplemental funding ends, adequate funding for resetting the force continues," the study said. "Without this, neither service will be able to 'get well' in the wake of Iraq."

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