Army chief says troops strained, calls pace 'unsustainable'

The Army's top general Tuesday acknowledged that his soldiers and their families are "stretched" and "stressed" by six years of war and will need a steady commitment of increased funding to keep the Army from sliding into the "hollow" force of the 1970s.

Gen. George Casey said the fight between Congress and the White House over the supplemental funding for Iraq and Afghanistan makes his job more difficult and sends "a terrible signal" to the troops fighting the war.

In a presentation to the Brookings Institution, the Army chief of staff appeared to try to strike a balance by giving a candid description of the problems facing his service and what it needs to recover while denying the more dire warnings from some analysts and critics.

But Casey emphasized that the strain on his troops and the wear and destruction of equipment from the current pace of deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan are "unsustainable."

Casey predicted a decision in three or four months on whether the Army troop level in Iraq could be reduced below the current 15 combat brigades.

Even if the commitment to Iraq is reduced and the Army can meet its goal of adding 74,000 soldiers, he said it would take three or four years of effort and increased funding to restore a force that is capable of meeting the full range of military challenges.

Noting the additional $17 billion in Army funding that Congress provided last year to improve readiness, Casey said: "Getting the resources to reset the force is the difference between a hollow force and a force that's ready to do the next thing."

Asked about the ongoing dispute between President Bush and the Democratic leaders in Congress over providing $196.4 billion in additional supplemental war funding, Casey stated the obvious that "not having predictable, timely funding makes it harder for me to do my job."

And, he added, "What's going on now sends a terrible signal to my soldiers and their families."

Casey noted that thousands of soldiers are returning from 15-month combat tours while Pentagon officials are warning about ending services at their home bases to divert money from the normal budget to the war.

Bush issued another demand Tuesday that Congress approve the additional war supplemental without the timeline for removing U.S. combat forces from Iraq that Democratic leaders are demanding.

The general, responding to a question, acknowledged that the Army is granting nearly twice as many "moral" waivers for recruits as it did five years ago, but said 80 percent of those are for misdemeanor offenses. "The notion out there that we're enlisting felons is not true," he said.

Casey stressed the need to reduce the pace of deployments so his troops could remain home more than a year. With such a rapid turnaround between combat tours, the Army is unable to train for anything but the current counter insurgency operations, he said.

It would require at least 18 months between deployments for the Army to train a force able to handle "the full spectrum of combat," which would include a conventional conflict against a major adversary, Casey added.

Editor's Note: Gen. Casey spoke at a Government Executive Leadership Breakfast in September.

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