News

    Iraq, Afghan Wars Cause Concern in US Military About Readiness

    Al Pessin

    The ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have generated concern about strain on the U.S. military and how long the United States can continue to keep large forces in combat. Among the concerns is that combat units are so overworked and so focused on fighting insurgencies that they may not be prepared to fight other conflicts that may break out around the world. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

    The United States has had troops in combat in Afghanistan since 2001 and in Iraq since 2003. Aside from the thousands of dead and wounded, and hundreds of billions of dollars spent, there is growing concern that the strain on the force could have implications for the future of U.S. military readiness.

    The top U.S. military officer, General Peter Pace, says it is something he watches closely.

    "I think we must pay attention to that every single day, because it's not a precise point on a curve where we can say when you get to this point, something good or bad is going to happen," he said.

    General Pace and other senior officers acknowledge that the deployment schedule is putting a strain on U.S. troops, particularly combat soldiers and marines. Last month, the Defense Department announced it would lengthen the tours of duty for soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan from 12 months to 15 months, with 12 months of vacation and training between deployments. The marines spend seven months at a time in combat, with six months at home.

    Former Clinton Administration defense department official Michelle Flournoy says the operational tempo has already left U.S. ground forces in a precarious position.

    "We're already at the point today where we do not have a reserve of ground forces that is adequate to respond to the full range of contingencies that we might face elsewhere in the world," she said.

    Flournoy, who is now an analyst at the Center for a New American Security, also worries that during their time at home, troops are only training to return to Iraq or Afghanistan and fight an insurgency, sacrificing training on other basic and potentially essential military skills.

    "The training is so focused on the tasks that are being conducted in Iraq that a lot of the other war-fighting tasks may be neglected. And I'll give you an example. You can find members of artillery units in both the army and the Marine Corps who've never fired artillery because every tour they've gone on since their enlistments has been in Iraq and they've been focused on counterinsurgency," she said.

    Current and former military officers have expressed similar worries.

    Among them is retired Major General John Batiste, who served in Iraq and has become an outspoken critic of the Bush Administration's war policy.

    "At this operational tempo, we are going to seriously damage our army and Marine Corps. Every army brigade is either deployed, preparing to deploy or redeploying. There is no strategic reserve," he said.

    On Friday, the Pentagon reported on another set of concerns about the state of the U.S. military. Officials released the results of two surveys, conducted last August and October, of the mental health of troops in Iraq and focusing on the soldiers and marines facing the most combat.

    Major General Gale Pollock, head of the army's medical command, says the surveys indicate that repeated and long combat tours have a significant impact on the troops' mental health, and the impact is worse on soldiers because they have longer deployments than the marines.

    "Not all soldiers and marines deployed to Iraq are at equal risk for screening positive for a mental health symptom. The level of combat is the main determinant of a soldier or marine's mental health status," said Pollock.

    General Pollock reports these first-ever mental health surveys of troops in combat indicate that mental strain contributes to the deployed troops' higher-than-average suicide rate, and also to their willingness to abuse civilians, in violation of military regulations. Ten percent of the troops said they had abused civilians, and half said they would not report such abuse if they saw it. In addition, more than a third said they would condone the torture of a detainee if they thought it would result in information that would save the life of a fellow soldier or marine.

    All this adds to concerns about the long-term impact of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on the readiness of the U.S. military for any future conflict. But General Pace, the top U.S. military officer, points out that while active duty ground combat units have been used heavily in recent years, the United States still has a large number of active and reserve troops ready to fight if needed.

    "The United States armed forces have enormous power and capacity. We have enormous residual capacity," said Pace. "We have the vast power of our Navy and our Air Force still available to take on any potential foes. There is zero doubt about the outcome. It would simply take us longer than we would like to defeat any potential enemy."

    And analyst Michelle Flournoy acknowledges that even with all the problems she sees, the U.S. military still has the capacity to inflict significant damage on any potential enemy.

    "To be fair, we still have a highly ready and powerful air, navy, special operations forces, etc. And we still have a very powerful ground force. But I think the fact that our ground forces are being stretched so thin, that they are tied down, bogged down, in current operations, I think there may be some rogue leaders who would perhaps say, 'Well, if I'm going to make mischief, now might be a good time,'" said Michelle Flournoy.

    The state of the U.S. military has been part of the debate in Washington about when to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. Senior generals and admirals acknowledge privately that it would be difficult, although not impossible, to deploy troops to another conflict or to sustain the surge of more than 20,000 extra U.S. troops in Iraq beyond this time next year. That puts even more pressure on the current effort to establish security in Baghdad and negotiate Iraqi political reconciliation so that U.S. forces can begin to withdraw from Iraq without leaving a chaotic situation behind.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.