President Bush has instructed Defense Secretary Robert Gates to provide a plan for increasing the size of the Army and Marine Corps. A major increase would take years to achieve and would not alleviate problems associated with the White House’s plan to “surge” troop levels in Iraq.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Bush said he has instructed newly sworn-in Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to report back to him with a plan to increase ground forces. The president gave no estimates about how many troops may be added but indicated that he agreed with suggestions in the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill that the current military is stretched too thin to cope with the demands placed on it.
“I’m inclined to believe that we do need to increase our troops—the Army, the Marines,” Bush said in the Oval Office session. “And I talked about this to Secretary Gates and he is going to spend some time talking to the folks in the building, come back with a recommendation to me about how to proceed forward on this idea.”
The president’s decision comes at a time when he is rethinking his strategy in Iraq and considering, among other options, a short-term surge in troop levels to try to secure violence-torn Baghdad. The Joint Chiefs of Staff are resisting the idea during internal debates, in part out of the conviction that it will further strain already-pressed forces.
A substantial military expansion will take years and would not be meaningful in the near term in Iraq. But it would begin to address the growing alarm among commanders about the state of the armed forces. Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army’s chief of staff, warned Congress last week that the active-duty Army “will break” under the strain of today’s war-zone rotations. Former secretary of state Colin L. Powell, a retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday that “the active Army is about broken.”