WASHINGTON — Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on Wednesday disputed reports suggesting that the U.S. military is stretched thin and close to a snapping point from operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, asserting “the force is not broken.”
“This armed force is enormously capable,” Rumsfeld told reporters at a Pentagon briefing. “In addition, it’s battle hardened. It’s not a peacetime force that has been in barracks or garrisons.”
Rumsfeld spoke a day after The Associated Press reported that an unreleased study conducted for the Pentagon said the Army is being overextended, thanks to the two wars, and may not be able to retain and recruit enough troops to defeat the insurgency in Iraq.
Congressional Democrats released a separate report Wednesday that also concluded the U.S. military is under severe stress.
Democrats weigh in
A group headed by former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry said Wednesday that it had concluded the U.S. military's ground forces are so stretched by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that potential adversaries may be tempted to challenge the United States,
"If the strain is not relieved, it will have highly corrosive and long-term effects on the military," Perry, who served under Democratic President Clinton from 1994-97, told a news conference in Washington.
The group's 15-page report warned of looming crises in recruiting troops and retaining current ones, and said the problems threaten the viability of the all-volunteer military.
"We believe that the Bush administration has broken faith with the American soldier and Marine," the report said. It said there were too few troops in Iraq to accomplish the U.S. mission and inadequate equipment and protection for troops.
These failures cause "a real risk of 'breaking the force,"' the report said.
Rumsfeld: Comments out of date, misdirected
But Rumsfeld described the reports as "just not consistent with the facts.”
And, in an apparent shot at the Clinton administration, Rumsfeld said a number of components of the armed forces were underfunded during the 1990s, “and there were hollow pieces to it. Today, that’s just not the case.”
He said there were over 1.4 million active U.S. troops, and some 2 million — counting National Guard and Reserve units — of which only 138,000 people were in Iraq.
“Do we still need more rebalancing? You bet,” Rumsfeld said.
The secretary suggested he was not familiar with reports suggesting an overburdened military. But, he said, “It’s clear that those comments do not reflect the current situation. They are either out of date or just misdirected.”
In the Pentagon-commissioned report obtained by The Associated Press, Andrew Krepinevich, a retired Army officer who wrote it under Pentagon contract, concluded that the Army cannot sustain the pace of troop deployments to Iraq long enough to break the back of the insurgency.
As evidence, he pointed to the Army’s 2005 recruiting slump — missing its recruiting goal for the first time since 1999 — and its decision to offer much bigger enlistment bonuses and other incentives.
Rumsfeld said that “retention is up” and that recruitment levels must meet higher goals, ones raised because of the operations on the ground.
“The force is not broken,” Rumsfeld said, suggesting such an implication was “almost backward.”
“The world saw the United States military go halfway around the world in a matter of weeks, throw the al-Qaida and Taliban out of Afghanistan, in a landlocked country thousands and thousands of miles away. They saw what the United States military did in Iraq.
“And the message from that is not that this armed force is broken, but that this armed force is enormously capable,” Rumsfeld said.
The Army fell more than 6,600 recruits short of its goal of enlisting 80,000 troops last year, the first time it missed its annual target since 1999 and the largest shortfall in 26 years.
But the Army exceeded its monthly recruiting goal in December for the seventh consecutive month, though some of those targets were lowered from last year’s. It will have to increase its recruiting pace, however, to meet its target of 80,000 that it has set for the budget year ending next Sept. 30.
A new law will let the Army attract older recruits, raising the top age from 35 to 42. In addition, financial bonuses for enlistment and re-enlistment have increased.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.