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March 19, 2007

U.S. Military Unprepared For Another Conflict

by Doug Mataconis

Thanks principally to the War in Iraq, the U.S. military is woefully unprepared to respond to a serious military crisis elsewhere in the world:

Four years after the invasion of Iraq, the high and growing demand for U.S. troops there and in Afghanistan has left ground forces in the United States short of the training, personnel and equipment that would be vital to fight a major ground conflict elsewhere, senior U.S. military and government officials acknowledge.

More troubling, the officials say, is that it will take years for the Army and Marine Corps to recover from what some officials privately have called a “death spiral,” in which the ever more rapid pace of war-zone rotations has consumed 40 percent of their total gear, wearied troops and left no time to train to fight anything other than the insurgencies now at hand.

The risk to the nation is serious and deepening, senior officers warn, because the U.S. military now lacks a large strategic reserve of ground troops ready to respond quickly and decisively to potential foreign crises, whether the internal collapse of Pakistan, a conflict with Iran or an outbreak of war on the Korean Peninsula. Air and naval power can only go so far in compensating for infantry, artillery and other land forces, they said. An immediate concern is that critical Army overseas equipment stocks for use in another conflict have been depleted by the recent troop increases in Iraq, they said.

“We have a strategy right now that is outstripping the means to execute it,” Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, Army chief of staff, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

This is, of course, entirely unsurprising. We’ve got more than 100,000 troops in Iraq, and thousands more in Afghanistan. After four years of rotating deployments and a situation on the ground in Iraq especially that is active and threatening, troops and equipment are getting burned out.

What happens, then, if a crisis breaks out in Korea, or if China starts threatening Taiwain, or (more likely than the other two) the situation in Pakistan finally reaches a boiling point and we’re faced with the possibility of radical Islamists with ties to al Qaeda acquiring a very significant stockpile of nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them throughout the Middle East ?

Well, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has the answer:

Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was asked last month by a House panel whether he was comfortable with the preparedness of Army units in the United States. He stated simply: “No . . . I am not comfortable.”

“You take a lap around the globe — you could start any place: Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Venezuela, Colombia, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, North Korea, back around to Pakistan, and I probably missed a few. There’s no dearth of challenges out there for our armed forces,” Pace warned in his testimony. He said the nation faces increased risk because of shortfalls in troops, equipment and training.

In earlier House testimony, Pace said the military, using the Navy, Air Force and reserves, could handle one of three major contingencies, involving North Korea or — although he did not name them — Iran or China. But, he said, “It will not be as precise as we would like, nor will it be on the timelines that we would prefer, because we would then, while engaged in one fight, have to reallocate resources and remobilize the Guard and reserves.”

And it’s not just the troops that are the problem:

The troop increase has also created an acute shortfall in the Army’s equipment stored overseas — known as “pre-positioned stock” — which would be critical to outfit U.S. combat forces quickly should another conflict erupt, officials said.

The Army should have five full combat brigades’ worth of such equipment: two stocks in Kuwait, one in South Korea, and two aboard ships in Guam and at the Diego Garcia base in the Indian Ocean. But the Army had to empty the afloat stocks to support the troop increase in Iraq, and the Kuwait stocks are being used as units to rotate in and out of the country. Only the South Korea stock is close to complete, according to military and government officials.

“Without the pre-positioned stocks, we would not have been able to meet the surge requirement,” Schoomaker said. “It will take us two years to rebuild those stocks. That’s part of my concern about our strategic depth.”

“The status of our Army prepositioned stock . . . is bothersome,” Cody said last week.

Some might say that we’ve been lucky over the past four years that a major crisis has not flared up elsewhere in the world that would require us to make a choice that the military really shouldn’t need to make. One wonders how long that luck will last.


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