Senate Democrats

Overstretched and Under Strain: Bush Administration Mismanagement of Our Military Leaves Us Less Capable of Responding to Threats at Home and Around the World

The Bush Administration’s flawed Iraq policies, including its failure to send in enough troops to secure the peace, its failure to advance a comprehensive strategy for victory, its failure to anticipate and plan for a protracted conflict, and its continued pursuit of a failing surge plan, along with its inadequate funding of our military – have dangerously overstretched our armed forces.  The Administration’s record of mismanagement has resulted in critical equipment and training shortfalls; forced repeated deployments and extended deployments for U.S. forces; led to recruiting and retention challenges; and left our country without a strategic reserve.  Today, many Army units are on their third or even fourth tour in Iraq or Afghanistan, while non-deployed units face significant shortfalls in readiness.  Military leaders warn that the current pace of operations and reduced readiness of U.S. military forces is limiting our ability to respond to threats to our security and crises that may emerge both at home and around the world.  As the following report highlights, our military cannot sustain the Bush Administration’s strategy in Iraq.  It is critical that we change course in order to rebuild our military, protect our homeland and restore American power.

U.S. military forces are being pushed to a breaking point

The Army is being stretched to its limit: all available active-duty and reserve combat units are now deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.  The Associated Press recently reported that, “The Army’S.38 available combat units are deployed, just returning home or already tapped to go to Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere, leaving no fresh troops to replace five extra brigades that Bush sent to Baghdad this year, according to interviews and military documents.” (Associated Press, 8/20/07)

The pace of operations is requiring repeated and extended deployments for U.S. forces, including one Army brigade that has completed its fourth deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan. As we enter into the fourth year of operations in Iraq and the sixth year of operations in Afghanistan, most Army brigades have completed two or three tours, while one Army brigade – The 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division – has completed four tours.  According to Pentagon data, approximately 1.6 million service members have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, with nearly one-third of those troops having served multiple tours of duty. (Department of Defense, 7/31/07; Associated Press, 8/20/07)

In addition to repeated deployments, U.S. forces also have had to endure longer deployments.  To keep pace with operational demands, in April the Pentagon extended tours for active-duty soldiers, increasing deployments from 12 months to 15 months. (DoD News Briefing with Secretary Gates and General Pace from the Pentagon, 4/11/07)  

General Petraeus testified that the military does not have the capacity to sustain the Bush Administration’s troop surge in Iraq beyond April of 2008.  Although the White House has portrayed its plan to drawdown U.S. forces to be the result of success on the ground in Iraq, the reality is that the Pentagon will have to reduce troop levels in the spring of 2008 regardless of the situation in Iraq.  As General Petraeus acknowledged in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, the Pentagon would be forced to withdraw 30,000 U.S. troops in the spring of 2008, barring a change in policy to further extend tours of duty for U.S. forces beyond the current limit of 15 months:

SENATOR REED: …my sense is that the overriding constraint you face is not what’s happening on the ground in Iraq, but the reality, unless you did recommend, request and then succeed [in extending tours of duty beyond 15 months] that unless tours were extended, 30,000 troops are coming out of there beginning April of next year, regardless of the situation on the ground.

GENERAL PETRAEUS:  Again, certainly, the active brigade combat teams were going to come out of there. Again, I am not aware of what is available in terms of battalions, brigades or what have you…

SENATOR REED: My sense is that the Reserve and National Guard forces are not available to replace this.

GENERAL PETRAEUS: I think that’s the case.

(Senate Armed Services Committee, 9/11/07)

The Joint Chiefs of Staff reportedly advised the President that significant reduction in U.S. force levels in Iraq – beyond recommendations made by General Petraeus and endorsed by the White House – are necessary to ensure that the military is able to respond to other threats.  According to a recent Los Angeles Times report,”the Joint Chiefs in recent weeks have pressed concerns that the Iraq war has degraded the U.S. military’s ability to respond, if needed, to other threats, such as Iran.  The chiefs are pushing for a significant decrease in troop levels once the current buildup comes to an end – perhaps to about half of the 20 combat brigades now in Iraq. Along with support units, that would lower the U.S. presence to fewer than 100,000 troops from the current 162,000.” (Los Angeles Times, 8/24/07)

The Pentagon has been forced to take extraordinary measures to meet the Bush Administration’s operational demands:

  • The Pentagon is increasingly turning to private contractors to fulfill mission requirements in Iraq.  According to media reports, the Department of Defense is looking to hire additional contractors take over logistics responsibilities for many military units, as U.S. support personnel are being tapped to provide force protection and perform combat operations.  As the Washington Post reported earlier this week, “10 days ago [General Petraeus’s] commanders in Baghdad began advertising for private contractors to work in combat-supply warehouses on U.S. bases throughout Iraq because half the soldiers who had been working in the warehouses were needed for patrols, combat and protection of U.S. forces.  ‘With the increased insurgent activity, unit supply personnel must continue to pull force protection along with convoy escort and patrol duties,’ according to a statement of work that accompanied the Sept. 7 request for bidders from Multi-National Force-Iraq.  All of the small logistics bases, called Supply Support Activities, or SSAs, are ‘currently using about 50% of their assigned (currently less than 100% strength) military personnel for other required duties (force protection, patrols, escort duties, etc. along with performing 24 hour combat operations),’ the statement says.” (Washington Post, 9/17/07)
  • The Pentagon has relied on the National Guard to meet military escalation requirements in Iraq and Afghanistan.  On April 9, the Pentagon notified four Army National Guard brigade units from Arkansas, Oklahoma, Ohio, and Indiana that they will deploy to Iraq in December 2007 or early 2008.  Although the readiness of National Guard and Reserve is at a historic low, with nearly 90 percent of units rated as “not ready,” the Pentagon is reportedly planning to rely on these forces to help meet surge requirements in Iraq and Afghanistan.  According to military officials, National Guard combat brigades are going to be called upon increasingly in the next year to relieve active-duty troops in Iraq: officials report that the Army Guard and Reserve are anticipated to grow from 20 percent to 30 percent of the deployed force. (Washington Post, 3/19/07)
  • The Pentagon extended tours for active-duty soldiers, increasing deployments from 12 months to 15 months in order to meet surge demands.  On April 11, Secretary Gates announced that active-dutyArmy units now in Iraq and Afghanistan and those sent in the future will serve 15-month tours, three months longer than the standard one-year tour. (DoD News Briefing with Secretary Gates and General Pace from the Pentagon, 4/11/07)  
  • Military leaders have been forced to compress training time to meet the pace of deployment.  Army officers have told reporters that the current tempo of operations has forced them to abandon specialized courses and practice exercises on firing ranges for shortened classes and training on weapons simulators.  They also report that equipment shortages at home have left many troops unable to train on the same equipment that they are using in Iraq.  As a result, some fear that troops are being sent into battle unfamiliar with critical equipment and that their performance on the field will be compromised. (New York Times, 3/20/07)

Bush Administration policies have led to a readiness crisis in our active-duty and reserve forces:

The Department of Defense Inspector General reported that U.S. troops are being sent into combat without necessary equipment.  According to an unclassified summary of a recent Department of Defense Inspector General Report, U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan lack key equipment, including up-armored vehicles, communications equipment, electronic jammers used to detonate roadside bombs, and heavy machine guns.  As a result, troops are at times forced to delay operations while they wait for the right equipment to become available. (DoD/IG, Equipment Status of Deployed Forces, 1/25/07)

Non-deployed troops face a shortage of equipment necessary for training.  In February, General Peter Pace testified that “about 40 percent of our equipment is either currently in combat zone or being repaired,” leaving units at home with “less than a full complement of equipment, and it means that in some cases, where we have our best vehicles, like the manufactured up-armored Humvees that are all forward-deployed, that the troops who are training to go, train in normal Humvees instead of up-armored Humvees.” (General Pace, Testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, 2/7/07)

Eighty-eight percent of non-deployed Army National Guard units are rated as not ready.  General Steven Blum, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, testified earlier this year that the readiness of National Guard forces is at a historic low.  In testimony before the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, General Blum stated that “88 percent of the forces that are back here in the United States are very poorly equipped today in the Army National Guard.  And in the Air National Guard, for the last three decades, they have never had a unit below C2 in equipment readiness.”  Further, he testified, “Those units are needed here at home, and they’re leveraged every day.” (General Steven Blum, Testimony before the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, 1/31/07; Commission on the Nation Guard and Reserves, 3/07)

It has taken the Pentagon more than two years to make the procurement of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles a top priority, a delay that has left U.S. troops in Iraq vulnerable to roadside bombs.  Although Marine Corps officials have been requesting Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles (MRAPs) – vehicles that reportedly could reduce IED (improvised explosive device) casualties by two thirds – since February of 2005, it was not until March of this year that the Marine Corps Commandant made MRAPs a top funding priority.  It was not until June that Secretary Gates called on the military and defense industry to accelerate production of the vehicles, saying that “For every month we delay, scores of young Americans are going to die” and it was not until July 2 that the Pentagon approved the strategy for maximizing production of the vehicles. (USA Today, 7/2/07; Associated Press, 7/3/07; Washington Post, 7/3/07)

The reduced readiness of U.S. military forces is limiting our ability to respond to threats to our security and crises that may emerge at home and around the world

U.S. Army Chief of Staff: the current pace of operations is unsustainable.  In a speech last month, General Casey warned that the current operational tempo is weakening our capacity to respond to other contingencies.  He stated that “Today’s Army is out of balance.  We’re consumed with meeting the current demands and we’re unable to provide ready forces as rapidly as we would like for other contingencies; nor are we able to provide an acceptable tempo of deployments to sustain our Soldiers and Families for the long haul.  This is a temporary state and one we must pass through quickly if we’re going to preserve and sustain our all-volunteer force and restore strategic depth.” (Speech, National Press Club, 8/15/07)

 

During his Senate confirmation hearing in July, Admiral Mullen identified the “stress on our ground forces” as one of the greatest risks to U.S. national security.  “The stress that our ground forces are going through, specifically because of the number of deployments, number of rotations, and the prospect for more, and that they are, in fact, away a lot more than they are home, and the stress that that just puts on individuals who are performing magnificently in uniform, but also families.” (Testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, 7/31/07)

The Army’s ready brigade is not available to respond.  “For the first time in decades, the Army’s “ready brigade” – a unit of the famed 82nd Airborne Division primed to parachute into a hot spot anywhere in the world within 72 hours – is a luxury the U.S. Army cannot afford.  All its forces are already dedicated to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Time, 4/9/07)

The troop surge is draining the Army’s pre-positioned stocks – critical equipment that is stored overseas for contingency operations.  While the Army is supposed to have five brigades worth of equipment overseas should there be another conflict, military and government officials report that only one of these five stocks is near complete.  According to media reports, the Army has been forced to pull from these critical reserves to accommodate the troop increase in Iraq.  As the Army Chief of Staff, General Schoomaker, recently testified, “without the pre-position stocks, we would not have been able to meet the surge requirement…It will take us two years to rebuild those stocks.  That’s part of my concern about our strategic depth.” Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Conway, has warned of similar challenges facing his forces.  He testified that while the Marines have been able to obtain additional equipment from the maritime Prepositioning Ships and prepositioned stores, the “cost of this success is a decrease in non-deployed unit readiness as well as an increase in the maintenance required per hour of operating time.”  (Washington Post, 3/19/07; General Peter Schoomaker, Testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, 3/15/07; General Conway, Testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, 3/29/07)

Troops are not being provided with the training necessary to respond to other threats.  Military leaders have expressed concerns about shortcomings in current training programs, which they say are narrowly focused on preparing for the counterinsurgency missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, leaving our troops without critical skills to effectively respond to other contingencies that could arise.  In testimony earlier this year, General Richard Cody stated that “We have the best counterinsurgency in the world, but they’re not trained for full-spectrum operations.”  General Conway also raised this issue at a Senate hearing recently, stating that, “I think my largest concern, probably, has to do with training.  When we’re home for that seven, eight, nine months, our focus is going back to Iraq… we’re not doing amphibious training, we’re not doing mountain-warfare training, we’re not doing combined-arm fire maneuver, such as would need to be the case, potentially, in another type of contingency.” (General Cody, Testimony before the House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee, 3/13/07; General Conway, Testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, 2/15/07)

Bush Administration policies have left our country without a strategic reserve, raising concerns about our ability to carry out critical missions.  In February, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, reportedly sent a classified letter to Congress which raised from “moderate” to “significant” the level of risk the military is likely to face this year in carrying out its missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other areas of conflict that could arise.  And in a more recent interview, Army Vice Chief of Staff General Cody told Congress that “the readiness continues to decline of our next-to-deploy forces…  And those forces, by the way, are…also your strategic reserve.  And there are shortages in the light tactical vehicles, medium tactical vehicles, heavy tactical vehicles; some shortages in weapons, shortages in radios, and shortages in night vision devices that we’ve had to flow to the force forward.” (New York Times, 3/20/07; Testimony before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness, 3/13/07)

Without a strategic reserve, U.S. deterrence capabilities have been weakened.  In recent testimony, General Blum warned that the equipment drain on the National Guard has made America more vulnerable to global threats.  He stated that, “The problem is that our adversaries overseas know that we’re underequipped, and they may miscalculate on our ability to do anything.  If we were properly equipped back here at home, not only would you have the force that the governors need to respond here at home, but we would have a strategic reserve that was a credible deterrent force while we are still an operational force overseas.” (General Blum, Testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, 4/24/07)

National Guard and Reserve officials testify that our forces are not sufficiently prepared to respond to a crisis that could emerge at home. 

  • On average, non-deployed Army National Guard units have only half of the equipment they need to respond to crises at home.  In recent testimony, General Blum stated that, Nationwide, I can tell you that the National Guard prior to September 11th, 2001, had approximately 75 percent of the equipment that it was required to have against a validated requirement that was set by the Army and the Air Force to perform our federal combat missions abroad. At the beginning of this year, that number was down to as low as 40 percent.  It today stands at 53 percent, if you’re talking about homeland defense/homeland security-essential equipment.  If you’re talking about the full spectrum of equipment that we require, it’s only 49 percent.  So roughly half of what we need is in our hands here at home. (General Blum, Testimony before the House Homeland Subcommittee on Management, 5/24/07)
  • General Arnold Punaro, Chairman of the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, calls readiness levels “unacceptable.”  In testimony in March, General Punaro stated that, “Nobody’s paying attention to the fact that we’re unready to deal with missions here at home.”  While deploying troops have mobilization time to train and to bring in needed personnel and equipment, the general highlighted that, “That’s not the case here at home.  Homeland scenarios, it’s come as you are.  It’s be ready here now.  And the fact that we have the first three Guard brigades that went to Iraq and have been back since 2005 – two years later, they’re still C4 for equipment…the get-well figure for combat for the Guard is 2015.  The get-well for their combat support is 2020.  I don’t think that’s acceptable in – with the kind of threats we deal with here at home.” (General Punaro, Testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, 3/23/07)

Bush Administration is failing to meet its obligation to our troops and military families:

Pentagon survey finds that soldiers suffer increased levels of combat stress with extended and repeated deployments.  A mental health survey released by the Pentagon in May, which surveyed 1,320 soldiers and 447 marines in August and September of 2006, found that repeated and extended deployments in Iraq are causing an increased risk of psychological problems for soldiers.  According to the report, nearly 30 percent of soldiers engaged in “high combat” were found to be suffering from “acute stress” and soldiers who served multiple deployments in Iraq were more likely to suffer mental health problems.  The survey found that 24 percent of those who had served repeated tours in Iraq suffered from “acute stress,” compared to 15 percent who served only one tour. (New York Times, 5/6/07)

Department of Defense Task Force on Mental Health finds that the military’s mental health care system is failing to meet the needs of our troops.  In June, the congressionally-commissioned task force reported that, “The Military Health System lacks the fiscal resources and fully-trained personnel to fulfill its mission to support psychological health in peacetime or fulfill the enhanced requirements imposed during times of conflict.  The mission of caring for psychological health has fundamentally changed and the current system must be restructured to reflect these changes.” (An Achievable Vision, Report of the Department of Defense Task Force on Mental Health, June 2007)

  • U.S. troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer “daunting and growing mental health problems.”  The study reported that 38 percent of soldiers, 31 percent of Marines, 49 percent of Army National Guard members and 43 percent of Marine reservists reported symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, depression or other mental health problems. (Washington Post, 6/16/07)
  • More than four years into the war in Iraq and nearly six years into the war in Afghanistan, service members and their families face significant challenges in getting the mental health treatment they need.  The task force reported several obstacles to accessing to mental health care in the military’s system, including the stigma associated with seeking help, inadequate access to providers and facilities, and insufficient fiscal and personnel resources. 
  • The Task Force found that the current system “falls significantly short” of its goals of: 1) providing a “culture of support for psychological health;” 2) ensuring that “service members and their families will be psychologically prepared to carry out their missions;” 3) allocating “sufficient and appropriate resources for prevention, early intervention, and treatment;” and 4) providing visible and empowered leaders. (An Achievable Vision, Report of the Department of Defense Task Force on Mental Health, June 2007)

Walter Reed does not have enough psychiatrists or clinicians to provide adequate mental health care treatment to the rising number of soldiers returning with combat stress.  The Washington Post recently reported that, “The Army has no PTSD center at Walter Reed, and its psychiatric treatment is weak compared with the best PTSD programs the government offers.  Instead of receiving focused attention, soldiers with combat-stress disorders are mixed in with psych patients who have issues ranging from schizophrenia to marital strife.” (Washington Post, 6/18/07)

The strain placed on troops is undermining morale and leading to recruitment and retention challenges

The Army has been forced to lower standards to meet recruitment goals.  Department of Defense records show that the number of waivers granted to Army recruits with criminal backgrounds has increased by about 65 percent in the last three years (from 4,918 in 2003 to 8,129 in 2006).  At the same time, medical waivers also have increased by 4 percent, reaching 12,313 in 2006.  Further, since December 2005, the Army has raised the maximum enlistment age of recruits from 35 to 42, in an effort to meet recruitment goals. (New York Times, 2/14/07; Reuters, 6/12/06)

The Army is turning to other services to recruit new enlistees.  In order to meet escalating deployment demands and goals for permanently growing the end strength of its force, the Army is increasingly seeking to recruit enlistees from other services.  As a recent Time magazine article reports “About 20,000 ‘sandbox sailors’ form the Navy and airmen from the Air Force are serving ‘in lieu of’ soldiers – driving trucks and providing security in Iraq and Afghanistan.” (Time, 4/16/07)

The military has relied on the use of stop-loss, a policy that prevents troops who have completed their term of service from leaving the military, to meet deployment schedules.  Secretary Geren recently testified that, “We look at the stop loss as a necessary process right now to meet our deployment schedules.  Secretary Gates – and I agree with him, says stop loss is something that we need to work our way out of.  And I have tasked the Army to come up with a plan to work us out of stop loss, to come with alternatives, come up with incentives.”  In a recent study, the Center for American Progress stated that “even high ranking Pentagon officials have admitted that the stop-loss policy is a backdoor draft inconsistent with the principles of voluntary service.”  According to the report, the Administration has imposed this policy on more than 50,000 troops. (Testimony before the Senate Armed Service Committee, 6/19/07; Center for American Progress, 3/2007)

West Point graduates are leaving the military in unprecedented numbers.  The Boston Globe reports that, “Recent graduates of the US Military Academy at West Point are choosing to leave active duty at the highest rate in more than three decades, a sign to many military specialists that repeated tours in Iraq are prematurely driving out some of the Army’s top young officers. According to statistics compiled by West Point, of the 903 Army officers commissioned upon graduation in 2001, nearly 46 percent left the service last year — 35 percent at the conclusion of their five years of required service, and another 11 percent over the next six months. And more than 54 percent of the 935 graduates in the class of 2000 had left active duty by this January, the statistics show. (Boston Globe, 4/11/07)

Reenlistment rates for mid-grade Army soldiers have dropped by 12 percent since 2005.  According to Pentagon data, the retention rate of mid-grade enlisted soldiers has declined from 96 percent during the first quarter of 2005 to 84 percent during the first quarter of this year.  The Christian Science Monitor reports that “Fewer mid-grade sergeants are opting to stay in the Army as many face another deployment to Iraq – and, more important, Army officials say, less time at home.” (Christian Science Monitor, 5/2/07)

Fewer veteran Reserve officers are volunteering to remain enlisted and risk mobilization.  According to an Army survey of 10,000 officers in its Individual Ready Reserve who have fulfilled their obligated term of service, only about one-fifth (2,123) expressed willingness to remain in the Army and risk being deployed overseas.  Nearly half of the officers did not respond to Army letters requesting firm commitments on their willingness to remain in service, and of the 4,500 officers who did respond, more than half opted to quit or retire from the Army.  Since 9/11 approximately 11,000 of the Ready Reserve’s force of 87,000 have been called to active duty.  More than 200 enlisted soldiers have reportedly refused orders to serve. (USA Today, 3/19/07)

 Army desertion rates are on the rise.  According to Army statistics desertion rates among its active-duty forces rose by eight percent in Fiscal Year 2005 and then rose by 27 percent in Fiscal Year 2006. (New York Times, 3/23/07)

The President’s handling of the war is losing support from U.S. troops.  For the first time, in a December 2006 Military Times poll, more troops surveyed disapproved of the President’s handling of the war in Iraq than approved of it, 42 to 35. (Time, 4/16/07)

Bookmark and Share