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US Lawmaker Says Iraq Troop Surge Hurts Military Response Capabilities


The chairman of a key U.S. House committee says President Bush's plan to deploy 21,500 additional troops to Iraq is unacceptable because it would hurt the U.S. military's ability to respond to other crises around the world. Comments by Congressman Ike Skelton came as two top military commanders testified to Congress on strains on the military. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill.

The statement by Congressman Skelton, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, came as lawmakers heard from two senior military leaders.

General Peter Schoomaker, Army Chief of Staff, and General James Conway, Commandant of the Marine Corps, testified as lawmakers sought their views on the pressures the long deployment of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan have placed on the military's flexibility.

Congressman Skelton says he is deeply concerned that increasing the number of U.S. combat brigades in Iraq from 15 to 20 will increase the level of strategic risk and reduce the U.S. ability to respond to other contingencies.

Answering lawmaker's questions, General Schoomaker said while the Army retains sufficient deterrent capabilities, strains have been considerable. "Recent decisions to expand the Army reflect a clear recognition of the dangers we face and the strain that five years of sustained demand have placed on the all-volunteer force," he said.

General Schoomaker said Congress must provide funds that, in his words, would restore the strategic depth of the Army necessary to respond decisively to potential strategic contingencies.

General Conway had this response when asked the same question about the U.S. military's ability to respond to other trouble spots. "Sir, we feel that there is risk. We feel like we would be able to respond with those forces that are not committed to Iraq or Afghanistan. That the response would be slower than we might like, would not have all of the equipment sets that would ordinarily be the case, and there is certainly risk associated with that," he said.

Although U.S. troops in Iraq are being pushed hard, General Conway said morale remains high because they believe they are making a difference and that Americans support them.

Democrats, who are in control of Congress, assert that the president's Iraq deployment may place a strain on troop numbers in Afghanistan, a concern shared by many Republicans.

General Schoomaker said none of the troop surge for Iraq, which he calls a "plus-up", is being sourced from U.S. forces on the ground in Afghanistan.

General Conway had this exchange with Democratic Congressman Vic Snyder:

CONWAY: "When I spoke to the commanders in Afghanistan they were concerned that there is a spring offensive coming and it is their belief that they could some additional troops in Afghanistan."

SNYDER: "Is the surge proposed [in Iraq] going to interfere with our ability to give them the troops that they are requesting?"

CONWAY: "I would say it will impact it, it will not interfere with it to the extent that it would preclude it."

Congressman Skelton says the costs of the additional Iraq deployment in terms of money, troop and family morale, and degradation of training and equipment [are] unacceptable when, in his words, "the potential gains to American national security are so uncertain."

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