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US Army Chief Says Service Consumed by Demands of War


U.S. Army officials have told a key U.S. Senate committee that the demands of fighting two wars are outstripping the army's ability to remain ready for conflict. At the same time, Democratic congressional leaders say they are unlikely to approve new war funding until President Bush accepts a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. VOA's Jim Fry reports.

U.S. troops have been at war in Afghanistan for more than six years.

And they have been fighting in Iraq going on five years. Together, the army says the wars represent the third longest conflict in U.S. history.

U.S. soldiers now spend 12 months at home, before they go back to a war zone, and are away from their families for 15 months.

Army Secretary Pete Geren told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday this is the longest fight ever for the all-volunteer military force. "We're in uncharted waters both for the soldiers and the families."

Geren and Army Chief of Staff General George Casey asked the Senate Armed Services Committee for help.

The services report that sustained conflict is hard on equipment, as well as men. Congress has provided the Army and Marine Corps with $49 billion to repair and replace equipment, but government auditors say it may not be enough.

General Casey told senators the army is out of balance. He said, "The current demand for our forces exceeds the sustainable supply. We're consumed with meeting the demands of the current fight and are unable to provide ready forces as rapidly as necessary for other contingencies."

Democrats and Republicans on the committee pledged to support the needs of America's soldiers.

But the political battle over the American military presence in Iraq threatens current funding. Democrats want to require President Bush to start bringing troops home in return for the money he has requested.

The House on Wednesday narrowly approved $50 billion in short term funding, but set a goal of ending combat in about a year. The White House threatened to veto the measure.

Geren says the army will soon have to begin using its yearly operating funds to pay for the war. "We will run through our operations and maintenance account. But if we do not get some funding relief by mid-February, we will be in a position where we will have to start furloughing our civilians, canceling contracts."

Republican lawmaker Jeff Sessions accused Democrats of playing political games. "It's just unthinkable that we would commit military men and women to harm's way. General Casey, you commanded those troops over there. They are entitled to absolute support from the United States Congress," he said.

Democrats on the committee countered by asking when Iraqi forces will take over for U.S. troops as the president has pledged.

Their conversation:
Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin: " Is there a goal for the transition that the president has talked about? That's my question. Do you know of a goal?"

Casey: "A temporal [time related] goal?"

Levin: "Yes."

Casey: "I don't know of a temporal goal."

Levin: "Secretary?"

Geren: "I do know know of a temporal goal"

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats say they will not even consider the funding issue until next year, unless they can impose a goal on the administration for withdrawal from Iraq.