Operation Iraqi Freedom: U.S. military readiness

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The matter of U.S. military readiness during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom II, Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan appeared on the world scene December 6, 2003, the eve of the anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day, in a Washington Post article, "Army Will Face Dip in Readiness. 4 Divisions to Regroup After Iraq," by Vernon Loeb.

Loeb writes that, according to "a senior Army official,... Four Army divisions [the 82nd Airborne, the 101st Airborne, the 1st Armored and the 4th Infantry -- are to return from Iraq next spring, to be replaced by three others, with a fourth rotating into Afghanistan] -- 40 percent of the active-duty force -- will not be fully combat-ready for up to six months next year, leaving the nation with relatively few ready troops in the event of a major conflict in North Korea or elsewhere." This would leave "only two active-duty divisions available to fight in other parts of the world ... [and a] fifth division, the 3rd Infantry, which returned from Iraq in August, is still not fully ready to return to combat."

Previously, the Army has "been using 120 days as its standard for 'resetting' divisions returning from overseas deployments." Now, it is reported, "overhauling the divisions returning from Iraq could take as long as 180 days because of the extreme weather in Iraq and the unprecedented magnitude of the planned troop rotation. ... Once those divisions return from Iraq, Army readiness will be at its lowest point since the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Since then, Army officials have tried to keep divisions at the highest, C-1 readiness level."

Politically, Loeb suggests, the "dip in readiness could have political consequences" for President George W. Bush, who, during the 2000 campaign, criticized the Bill Clinton administration "for allowing two Army divisions to fall to the lowest readiness category in 1999 because of peacekeeping obligations in the Balkans."

This may signal that reinstituting the draft is imminent, as Loeb writes that "The Army's dip in readiness will almost certainly be used by both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill pushing for an increase in Army troops," which is said to be opposed by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. "Critics of the administration respond that even the most optimistic military commanders believe 50,000 or more U.S. troops will be needed in Iraq for three to five more years, Loeb says.

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  • 7 December 2003: "On the Ground, Straight From the Top" by Vernon Loeb, Washington Post: Excerpts from emails from Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., commander of the 82nd Airborne Division; Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling, assistant commander, 1st Armored Division; Lt. Col. Steve Russell, commander, 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division; and Lt. Col. Henry Arnold, commander, 2nd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne.
  • 7 December 2003: "Worry Over Army Cutbacks", New York Post: "Army troop readiness will fall to its lowest level since the volunteer military was established in 1973 if the Pentagon goes ahead with its plan to recall more than 100,000 soldiers beginning in February, officials admitted. ... By recalling the four divisions to 'recharge' after grueling tours of duty in Iraq, the Pentagon is taking a calculated risk that they won't be needed to fight a major adversary such as North Korea on short notice. ... The 100,000 soldiers represent 40 percent of the Army's combat troops."
  • 29 December 2003: "The Thinning of the Army," New York Times: "Over a third of the Army's active-duty combat troops are now in Iraq, and by spring the Pentagon plans to let most of them come home for urgently needed rest. Many will have served longer than a normal overseas tour and under extremely harsh conditions. When the 130,000 Americans rotate out for home leave, nearly the same number will rotate in. At that point, should the country need to send additional fighters anywhere else in the world, it will have dangerously few of them to spare. ... This is the clearest warning yet that the Bush administration is pushing America's peacetime armed forces toward their limits."
  • 29 December 2003: "Army Stops Many Soldiers From Quitting. Orders Extend Enlistments to Curtail Troop Shortages" by Lee Hockstader, Washington Post: "...thousands of soldiers forbidden to leave military service under the Army's 'stop-loss orders, intended to stanch the seepage of troops, through retirement and discharge, from a military stretched thin by its burgeoning overseas missions. ... To the Pentagon, stop-loss orders are a finger in the dike -- a tool to halt the hemorrhage of personnel, and maximize cohesion and experience, for units in the field in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Through a series of stop-loss orders, the Army alone has blocked the possible retirements and departures of more than 40,000 soldiers, about 16,000 of them National Guard and reserve members who were eligible to leave the service this year. Hundreds more in the Air Force, Navy and Marines were briefly blocked from retiring or departing the military at some point this year. ... By prohibiting soldiers and officers from leaving the service at retirement or the expiration of their contracts, military leaders have breached the Army's manpower limit of 480,000 troops, a ceiling set by Congress."
  • 31 December 2003: "Troop rotations in Iraq spur security safeguards. Concerns raised that turnover will present new targets" by Bryan Bender, Boston Globe: "More than 250,000 troops will take to the roads in convoys and be flown in and out of the country in the first four months of 2004, along with an estimated 600,000 tons of equipment, the Pentagon predicts. The movement increases the chances for a spike in attacks from insurgents armed with missiles, rockets, and roadside bombs, the officials said."
  • 31 December 2003: "Help our citizen soldiers," Denver Post: "With the prospect that citizen soldiers will be doing more of the duty in Iraq next year, there's disturbing news that the Army Reserve and National Guard in these parts can't fill their ranks. ... More so than in the past, citizen soldiers play a critical role in today's U.S. defense policy, augmenting the all-volunteer armed forces of 1.4 million troops during crises. ... About 20 percent of the troops in Iraq are reservists or Guard members. Next year, these troops will total 40 percent of the force. ... The regular military has had no recruiting problems, but some reserve and National Guard organizations have missed re-enlistment and recruiting targets."