10 years ago
It is one thing to support a surge of troops, and quite another to have the national discipline to prepare for it ten years ago.
For approximately four years, since the cessation of conventional operations in the Asia / Middle East theatre, U.S. forces have trained and equipped for counterinsurgency operations. In fact, under the Clinton administration, focus on large forces and heavy armor gave way to less armor, smaller, less armored vehicles, and special forces (along with a reduction in the overall size of the military). This is why the phrase ‘up-armored’ HMMWV exists. This has also left the armed forces less prepared for large-scale, conventional operations.
Nearly four years in Iraq have hammered US army and marines into a skilled counter-insurgency force but has left it unready for war against a conventionally armed foe, US generals warn.
Arguing for big budget increases and more troops, leaders of both military services have made the case in recent days that the US military faces greater risk today if it is called to respond to another major conflict.
“What we are developing right now is the best counterinsurgency force in the world, both army and marine,” General James Conway, commandant of the marine corps, told lawmakers Tuesday.
But “that’s essentially what they’re focused on,” Conway added, because troops have little time to train for anything else between tours to Iraq.
“So we need to be able to train toward other major contingency types of operations, and we’re just not doing it right now,” he said.
General Peter Schoomaker, the army chief of staff, echoed Conway’s concerns at hearing before the House Armed Services Committee.
“I have no concerns about how we are equipping, training and manning the forces that are going across the berm into harm’s way. But I do have continued concerns about the strategic depth of our Army and its readiness,” he said.
Lieutenant General Stephen Speakes, an army deputy chief of staff, told defense reporters this week none of the army’s combat brigades are rated as ready for high intensity conflict.
“If you take a look at the forces not deployed to combat, whether they are active guard or reserve, they have substantial equipping shortfalls, and also some issues with training and manning,” he said.
“What that means then is they are not optimized to be ready to fight a high-intensity conflict,” he said.
“We have been very successful focusing both equipping and training and manning on the units that are going to combat, but those units have been focused on low intensity conflict,” he said.
“Their training program has been almost exclusively focused to that end, and even they are not high intensity conflict certified,” he said.
A “surge” of 21,500 additional troops to Iraq ordered by President George W. Bush will add to the squeeze, particularly if the demand for more troops continues to climb to pacify areas beyond Baghdad, they said.
“If it is indeed a plus-up, it is going to make our future more difficult,” said Conway.
The generals were reluctant to spell out the risk posed by another major challenge elsewhere in the world, referring lawmakers to classified assessments submitted by the militaries.
But in general terms officials said the US military response to crisis elsewhere is likely to be slower and incur more US casualties than called for in US war plans.
But the problems with small force projection and a paucity of equipment are more far reaching than a postulated war with another enemy (the dual containment philosophy). The problems are manifested in the here and now regarding the so-called “surge” of troops to support OIF.
Boosting U.S. troop levels in Iraq by 21,500 would create major logistical hurdles for the Army and Marine Corps, which are short thousands of vehicles, armor kits and other equipment needed to supply the extra forces, U.S. officials said.
The increase would also further degrade the readiness of U.S.-based ground forces, hampering their ability to respond quickly, fully trained and well equipped in the case of other military contingencies around the world and increasing the risk of U.S. casualties, according to Army and Marine Corps leaders.
“The response would be slower than we might like, we would not have all of the equipment sets that ordinarily would be the case, and there is certainly risk associated with that,” the Marine Corps commandant, Gen. James Conway, told the House Armed Services Committee last week.
President Bush’s plan to send five additional U.S. combat brigades into Iraq has left the Army and Marines scrambling to ensure that the troops could be supported with the necessary armored vehicles, jamming devices, radios and other gear, as well as lodging and other logistics.
Trucks are in particularly short supply. For example, the Army would need 1,500 specially outfitted — known as “up-armored” — 2 1/2 -ton and five-ton trucks in Iraq for the incoming units, said Lt. Gen. Stephen Speakes, the Army’s deputy chief of staff for force development.
“We don’t have the [armor] kits, and we don’t have the trucks,” Speakes said in an interview. He said it will take the Army months, probably until summer, to supply and outfit the additional trucks. As a result, he said, combat units flowing into Iraq would have to share the trucks assigned to units now there, leading to increased use and maintenance.
Speakes said that although another type of vehicle — the up-armored Humvee — continues to be in short supply Army-wide, there would be “adequate” numbers for incoming forces, and each brigade would receive 400 fully outfitted Humvees. But he said that to meet the need, the Army would have to draw down pre-positioned stocks that would then not be available for other contingencies.
Still, U.S. commanders privately expressed doubts that Iraq-bound units would receive a full complement of Humvees. “It’s inevitable that that has to happen, unless five brigades of up-armored Humvees fall out of the sky,” one senior Army official said of the feared shortfall. He expects that some units would have to rely more heavily on Bradley Fighting Vehicles and tanks that, although highly protective, are intimidating and therefore less effective for many counterinsurgency missions.
Adding to the crunch, the U.S. government has agreed to sell 600 up-armored Humvees to Iraq this year for its security forces. Such sales “better not be at the expense of the American soldier or Marine,” Speakes told defense reporters recently, saying U.S. military needs must take priority.
Living facilities in Iraq are another concern for the additional troops, who would be concentrated in Baghdad, Army officials said. The U.S. military has closed or handed over to Iraqi forces about half of the 110 bases established there after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Decisions are being made on where to base incoming units in Baghdad, but it is likely that, at least in the short term, they would be placed in existing facilities, officials said.
Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the new top U.S. commander in Iraq, has requested that additional combat brigades move into Iraq as quickly as possible. But accelerated deployments would mean less time for units to train and fill out their ranks. Brigades are required to have an aggregate number of soldiers before deploying but may still face shortages of specific ranks and job skills.
Meanwhile, the demand for thousands more U.S. forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan is worsening the readiness of units in the United States, depleting their equipment and time to train, Army officials said. “We can fulfill the national strategy, but it will take more time and it will also take us increased casualties to do the job,” Speakes said.
Army Chief of Staff Peter J. Schoomaker testified last week before the House Armed Services Committee that, regarding readiness, “my concerns are increased over what they were in June.”
“To meet combatant commanders’ immediate wartime needs, we pooled equipment from across the force to equip soldiers deploying in harm’s way,” he said. “This practice, which we are continuing today, increases risk for our next-to-deploy units and limits our ability to respond to emerging strategic contingencies.”
Schoomaker called for additional funding to fix “holes in the force” and “break the historical cycle of unpreparedness.”
The equipment shortages are pronounced in Army National Guard units, which have, on average, 40 percent of their required equipment, according to Army data. Senior Pentagon and Army officials say they expect to have to involuntarily mobilize some National Guard combat brigades earlier than planned to relieve active-duty forces. But the Guard as a whole is not expected to return to minimum equipment levels until 2013, Army figures show.
The Army seeks to increase its permanent active-duty ranks by 65,000 soldiers by 2012, creating six new combat brigades at a total estimated cost of $70 billion.
A number of problems have plagued OIF: the naive trust in the healing powers of democracy, the unreadiness of the new Iraqi armed forces to take over security of Iraq without the necessary training and equipment, COIN doctrine that took its cue from forty year old counterinsurgency strategy flowing from Vietnam rather than looking to the holy war that the jihadists are fighting, and other problems too numerous to mention. This naivety created the milieu for the deployment of a force that was too small to bring security to a country the size of Iraq, and equipped for a conflict that would not last as long as this one has.
The problems run from the preparations for OIF to the present, where senior officers find it implausible that the available equipment will match the needs of U.S. troops in the coming months. It is one thing to support a surge of troops, and quite another to have the national discipline to prepare for it ten years ago.
Thus does one senior military officer write me to ask, “Does America support the war but not the troops?”