Tue, Jul 22, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Washington asks, are US forces spread too thin?

NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE , WASHINGTON

The strains on US ground forces as the White House extends its global missions are prompting new debates on Capitol Hill and within the Pentagon over the question of whether the military needs more troops worldwide.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and senior military officers spent time over the weekend considering how to assign enough soldiers to carry out the long-term mission of stabilizing Iraq while simultaneously fulfilling other overseas commitments and providing security against terrorism at home and abroad.

Rumsfeld has been telling Congress that before the Pentagon takes the major step of asking for money to enlarge the military, he hopes to cut back on less urgent foreign assignments, to move people in uniform out of administrative tasks and back into combat units, and to change the balance of assignments between active-duty forces and those in the National Guard and Reserves.

A senior adviser to the defense secretary said that while it was easy to identify how many army or Marine corps troops the Pentagon needed for the global campaign against terror and for extended tours of duty on the ground in Iraq, Rumsfeld made no final decisions over the weekend as he waits for a larger blueprint from the military that would make new troop rotations more predictable.

Of the army's 33 active-duty combat brigades, 21 are now assigned overseas -- 16 of them in Iraq. Of those not abroad, most are already earmarked as replacement forces for other missions, like the one in Afghanistan, or are rebuilding their ranks, or are on emergency standby in case of a crisis with North Korea.

Officials said the National Guard and Reserves, which as of last Wednesday had 201,099 members on active duty, would probably have to shoulder some of the burden of any additional missions as well. The Marine corps could also be asked to share long-term peacekeeping duties, which traditionally have fallen to the army.

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