The US army is being stretched, by its deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan, into a "thin green line" in danger of breaking before the insurgents are defeated, claims a report commissioned by the Pentagon.
Andrew Krepinevich, a former army officer who wrote the report, said the army could not sustain the current pace of deployments -- which was likely in the end to discourage recruitment.
"This is the central, and as yet unanswerable, question the army must confront. Vigorous efforts should be made to enable a substantial drawdown in US force levels. The army ... cannot sustain the force levels needed to break the back of the insurgent movement," the report says.
Krepinevich, who runs a Washington thinktank, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, also suggested the administration lacked a clear strategy.
In his report presented as "an interim assessment" of Iraq, he writes: "Without a clear strategy in Iraq it is difficult to draft clear metrics for gauging progress. This may be why some senior political and military leaders have made overly optimistic or even contradictory declarations regarding the war's progress."
US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said he had not read the report, but said from what he heard of it "it's just not consistent with the facts."
Rumsfeld said that there were 1.4 million Americans currently in active service, of which only 138,000 were in Iraq. He said the army was in the process of being streamlined to create a more agile and combat-ready force.
However, a group of senior Democrats issued their own report yesterday accusing the administration of President George W. Bush of putting "our ground troops under enormous strain that, if not soon relieved, will have highly corrosive and potentially long-term effects on the force."
The report, presented by Senator Jack Reed, the former secretary of state, Madeleine Albright and Bill Clinton's first defense secretary, William Perry, called for an increase in deployable army forces of at least 30,000 troops. It argued there was a danger that the US' enemies could exploit its vulnerable state.
"Although the US can still deploy air, naval and other more specialized assets to deter or respond to aggression, the visible overextension of our ground forces could weaken our ability to deter aggression," it said.
Rumsfeld rejected that claim, saying: "The force is not broken ... It is not only capable of functioning in a very effective way. In addition it is battle hardened. It is not a peacetime force that has been in barracks or garrisons."
At another point this report says the US has "only limited groundforce capability ready to respond to other contingencies. The absence of a credible strategic reserve in our groundforces increases the risk that potential adversaries will be tempted to challenge the US."
More than 70 percent of the troops due to be deployed in Iraq next year will be returning for a third time. Krepinevich argues that such continual deployments will take their toll on army readiness.
In a chapter in his report entitled "Thin Green Line," he writes: "If it rotates its troops too frequently into combat, the army risks having many of its soldiers decide that a military career is too arduous or too risky an occupation for them and their families to pursue."
He begins the chapter with a quote from an unnamed army officer returning from Iraq who says: "Nobody in the US is asked to sacrifice, except us."