Inside The Pentagon
by Elaine M. Grossman
September 23, 2004
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Advisers To Rumsfeld: DOD Can’t Sustain Current Stability Operations
In a closed-door meeting late last month, an advisory group told Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld the Pentagon cannot maintain ongoing stability operations, including those in Iraq and Afghanistan, using the military’s existing troop levels.
“Current and projected force structure will not sustain our current and projected global stabilization commitments,” according to a briefing the co-chairs of a Defense Science Board “summer study” presented to Rumsfeld and several of his top lieutenants on Aug. 31. There are “inadequate total numbers” of U.S. troops for the job and a “lack of long-term endurance,” states the briefing, reviewed by Inside the Pentagon.
The findings may bolster Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s call for 40,000 more Army troops, as well as similar proposals from members of both parties on Capitol Hill. Rumsfeld has agreed to a temporary increase of 30,000 troops, the result of a “stop-loss” policy that has delayed these soldiers’ departure from the force. But he has rejected calls to make the increase permanent, insisting the Army — currently in the process of reorganizing for modern warfighting — is large enough.
Roughly 138,000 troops will be required in Iraq for the foreseeable future, according to the Pentagon. Army leaders acknowledge they have been struggling to identify sufficient troops to support annual rotations, and are now relying on the National Guard and Reserve to supply about 40 percent of U.S. troops in Iraq. Military officials also say they are seeking ways to shorten the Iraq and Afghanistan tours, given the burden they place on service members and their families (ITP, July 1, p1).
The Defense Science Board enumerates in its briefing three other options, beyond increasing troops, for sustaining current and future stability operations around the globe.
First, the Pentagon could “trade combat capabilities for stabilization capabilities,” retraining troops and perhaps even cashing in some weapons procurement to pay for more peacekeeping forces.
Second, the United States could “depend on others” — like the United Nations or allies — to augment U.S. stability forces. This option, too, has become a staple of Kerry’s stump speech on Iraq. President Bush has responded that he has already assembled a coalition, though critics note the U.S. military continues to supply the vast majority of forces.
The defense panel’s third alternative is perhaps the most controversial: to “scale back the number and/or objectives of stabilization missions.” Bush has repeatedly said he intends to “stay the course” in Afghanistan and Iraq, noting the importance of following through on U.S. commitments abroad. Kerry maintains a similar stance on this question.
Among the options, the Defense Science Board concludes that “some mitigation” of the deficit in stability forces “may be possible through contract personnel, technology and partners.”
The group also recommends the Army create force “modules” below the brigade level, trained in stability and reconstruction tasks. At the same time, the Defense Department should “treat stabilization as an explicit mission in DOD force planning and not as a lesser included case,” the briefing states. The group also recommends the Army name a senior officer as an “advocate for stabilization and reconstruction capabilities.”
The defense secretary commissioned the Defense Science Board study on “Transition To and From Hostilities” early this year.
At the Aug. 31 Pentagon briefing, Rumsfeld is said to have immediately embraced the panel’s central recommendation, the creation of standing forces to plan and help implement the government’s end-to-end crisis response for a half-dozen hot spots around the globe (ITP, Sept. 2, p1). The finding was strongly influenced by the Bush administration’s failure to adequately prepare for post-conflict stability and reconstruction in Iraq, despite more than a year of combat planning, review participants told ITP on condition of not being named.
The group expresses pessimism that stability operations can be maintained even if the new crisis-response task forces are created, and issues a pointed warning against taking on new commitments.
“If everything we recommend is implemented over the next five years, but we continue our current foreign policy of military expeditions every two years, we will begin two more stabilization operations without sufficient preparation or resources,” writes the Defense Science Board, adding, “Anything started wrong tends to continue wrong.”
Time reported Sept. 13 that senior Pentagon policy official William Luti hinted in an August conference call with congressional aides from both parties that a second Bush administration may carry its pre-emptive war strategy to five or six other nations beyond the current “axis of evil,”
possibly putting Syria and others in the cross hairs.
The study briefed to Rumsfeld has not yet been publicly released. But over the past three weeks, study co-chairs Phil Odeen and Craig Fields have presented their findings to a number of senior defense officials, including Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace, and Rumsfeld’s under secretaries for intelligence, policy and acquisition, according to participants. Additional briefings are expected in coming days for the military’s top combatant commanders, key members of Congress and senior National Security Council staff officials.
Odeen and Fields are both former defense officials now working in the private sector. The Pentagon does not identify participants in the Defense Science Board summer studies aside from the chairmen, but sources tell ITP the deliberations on pre- and post-conflict planning included about 20 science board members. They concluded the study with a two-week session in Irvine, CA, in early August.
—Elaine M. Grossman