More Sabers To Rattle, Perhaps Fewer To Thrust

More Sabers To Rattle, Perhaps Fewer To Thrust
February 25th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: More Sabers To Rattle, Perhaps Fewer To Thrust

More Sabers To Rattle, Perhaps Fewer To Thrust
New York Times
February 25, 2007
Pg. WK1

By Thom Shanker
WASHINGTON--WITH just enough flourish to give North Korea something to think about, a squadron of radar-evading F-22 Raptors landed in Japan a week ago, the first overseas deployment of the United States Air Force’s new ground-attack jet.
In a decision intended to give Iran similar pause, a second aircraft carrier arrived last week in waters within easy sail of the Persian Gulf.
These moves seemed like perfectly logical geopolitical responses to heightened dangers. But they also helped mask another reality. Because the military today does not have enough available ground troops to use for intimidation, the moves were pretty much the only options rather than choices among several.
In the past, certain Army brigades were designated to be on standby, ready to rush to global hot spots in 18 to 72 hours. But the Army and Marines are carrying out the mission in Iraq and Afghanistan with large and sustained deployments, so warplanes and warships are replacing boots on the ground elsewhere.
Senior military planners do not deny that last week’s deployments reflect a deep concern in the Pentagon that the United States simply may not have enough ready and available resources to go around. Moves like these have become necessary to offset enemy notions that being tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan have made America weak and in no position to exert any kind of force outside of those conflicts.
There is ample cause for concern. In addition to a shortage of available ground troops, military planners worry, armor and other combat gear being rushed to Iraq might not be around for use in another crisis.
Just last week, the nation’s highest-ranking officer, Gen. Peter Pace, secretly upgraded to “significant” the risk the military faces this year in carrying out its full national security mission. He unwaveringly stated that the armed forces would succeed at any mission ordered by the president; the response would just be slower, less elegant, more dangerous.
Taken together, the active-duty military and the reserves number more than two million, but the military is struggling to fill a roster of about 160,000 troops to carry out President Bush’s strategy in Iraq. Part of the strain is simple inefficiency. As Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the departing Army chief of staff, has said, the military deployment system is like a keg of beer, with the tap put too near the top to drain the whole barrel.
In a reflection of these strains, the Army is preparing this week to go public with its detailed plans for training and equipping the five Brigade Combat Teams being rushed to Iraq under Mr. Bush’s stabilization strategy — the so-called surge.
“Those B.C.T.’s are needed in Iraq sooner than the Army had planned to have them ready, and that increases the risk, of course,” said one senior Army officer.
To meet the orders to deploy, and to reassure the troops and their families that every soldier landing in the desert will be certified ready for the mission, those brigades will focus on training relevant only to the counterinsurgency effort in Iraq, leaving for another day the full spectrum of training desired by the Army to have its units prepared for any emergency, a senior officer said.
“At the end of the day, strategy is the management of risk, whether personal or military strategy,” said Jeffrey D. McCausland, a retired Army colonel now a senior fellow at the Carnegie Council in New York. “The question is, how much risk are we willing to live with? We are taking a significant amount of strategic risk today because, if you look at our ground forces, we have pulled almost everything out of the box already. So if a major problem arises somewhere else, what do we turn to?”
As a consequence, he said, the United States has lost much of its historic military flexibility. “We know that,” he said. “So do our adversaries. To some degree, Iran and North Korea can play this round of poker more boldly.”
American military planners are adapting to this new world of threat by deciding that its forces are fungible, and that the role traditionally assigned to the ground brigades designated for emergency deployment can be filled by other parts of the military. Aircraft and ships are the moving pieces to thrust and parry on the global chess board.
That, and billions in new spending. Money has been requested to increase the military by 92,000 people over the number in uniform on Sept. 11, 2001, with new money to recruit soldiers and entice experienced ones to stay longer. The 2007 budget has new allocations of $17.1 billion to reset Army equipment and $5.8 billion for Marine gear, with a separate fund of $13.9 billion in emergency spending power to replace or repair gear destroyed, damaged or worn in combat.
The debate over readiness and how to mitigate the current risk played out in secret this past week. Dated Feb. 20, a six-page document with red trim on the cover was quietly delivered to both houses of Congress, fulfilling a legal obligation for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in odd-numbered years, to give his unvarnished assessment of the nature and magnitude of the current risks to carrying out the nation’s military strategy. That is the report in which General Pace told Congress that the risk had increased to “significant,” from “moderate” in the previous assessment.
The chairman’s risk assessment is based on hard facts: numbers of troops deployed in combat zones, recruiting successes and shortfalls, armored vehicles to be replaced or repaired or drawn out of emergency depots to fulfill the Iraq mission, availability of transport planes, aerial refueling tankers, remotely piloted surveillance vehicles.
But there are important intangibles, mostly of perception. While General Pace’s assessment is classified, he has said in public that potential adversaries like Iran or North Korea should not miscalculate because the United States retains the military capability to carry out any mission ordered by the president.
A range of officials who read the assessment noted with concern that it did not factor in the 20,000-plus troops ordered to Iraq in January.
While the armed forces labor to keep the lid on Iraq and Afghanistan (and there is clear if cautious optimism on the part of senior officers), there are plenty of other bad neighborhoods: the Straits of Hormuz, where Iran could try to shut off global oil supplies in retaliation for efforts to curtail its nuclear ambitions; the straits dividing China and what it views as a renegade Taiwan; the tense demilitarized zone between South Korea and a newly nuclear-capable North, which can strike Japan, one of America’s most important allies, with missiles.
And here are some of the less-talked-about what-ifs that keep military planners awake at night: How does the American military respond if Fidel Castro dies and hundreds of thousands of Cubans set sail for the Gulf Coast of the United States? What if violent Islamic extremists seek to topple oil-rich American allies in the Persian Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia? What if the next assassination attempt on President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, whose country has the bomb, is successful?
In fact, the Pentagon detailed its efforts to mitigate the risks described by General Pace in a parallel document from Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates that, by law, is required to accompany the chairman’s assessment whenever the classified report judges that the risk to carrying out the mission has become “significant.”
The document from Mr. Gates described the Pentagon’s continuing efforts to increase the size of the military, replace lost or worn equipment, prepare the reserves for more efficient mobilization and modernize the force.
“There is no doubt that we can still conduct all of the missions assigned to us under the national military strategy,” said Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman. He noted that when the active-duty military, the reserves and Pentagon civilians are tallied, the rolls top three million, and that is without any call to national mobilization.