Military Leaders Warn of Shortages
By Carolyn Skorneck, Associated Press Writer
Wed Mar 20, 2002
WASHINGTON (AP) - Leaders of the U.S. Pacific and European commands said Wednesday the war on terrorism has overtaxed troops and equipment, leaving dangerous shortages that ultimately could hurt Americans.
The commanders were asked if they had enough forces to carry out all current operations as well as possible military action against Iraq, and their answers were " very troubling, " said Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., who asked the question.
" We do not have adequate forces to carry out our missions for the Pacific if the operations in the Central Command (Afghanistan) continue at their recent past and current pace, " Navy Adm. Dennis C. Blair, commander in chief of the Pacific Command, told the House Armed Services Committee.
Air Force Gen. Joseph W. Ralston, commander in chief of the European Command, gave a similar response.
" The answer to your question as you posed it is: I do not have the forces in EUCOM today to carry out these missions, " Ralston told Skelton, the committee's top Democrat.
But if more operations are assigned, Ralston said, " I will come back to the chairman of the joint chiefs and the secretary of defense and ask for additional forces. Then they are going to have to come up with a choice: Where are they going to take them away from? "
Ralston, whose command oversees 91 countries, said he is short-staffed, even with 115,000 forward-based troops, 8 percent of the military's total active-duty personnel.
" I have not had a marine amphibious ready group since October of last year, " Ralston said.
" This is the primary unit that I use to evacuate Americans if there is a NATO operation taking place in one of those 91 countries, " he said. " And I don't believe I will have a marine amphibious ready group this year other than just for a few days as they transit the Mediterranean. "
Likewise, Ralston said he has not had an aircraft carrier in many months, save for a few days when it traveled through the Mediterranean. He has also sent AWACS aircraft to support operations in Southwest Asia.
In the meantime, the commanders are making do by shifting forces around.
" We were without a carrier battle group in the Western Pacific " in the Afghan war's early days, Blair said. " We compensated for that by moving Air Force aircraft from Alaska to the Korean peninsula. "
" So we can mitigate for a while ... but there are shortages of naval forces, of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance forces, in particular, that have to be made up for if we are to continue the current level of operations in the Central Command, " Blair said.
Lengthening deployments, bringing in more reserves and delaying decommissioning of ships can cover some shortfalls, but it will take more to keep going over the long term, Blair said.
Asked by Rep. Jo Ann Davis, R-Va., about the impact of another aircraft carrier retirement, Blair said it would require a shift to land-based airpower, creating a potential problem in the vast Pacific region.
" I'm already at zero, " Ralston said. " With one less, I can't be any worse than at zero. "
Army Gen. William F. Kernan, commander in chief of the U.S. Joint Forces Command, told the committee last week that U.S. troops are overextended and exhausted, and he supported calls by service leaders for more people: Army, 40,000; Air Force, 6,000; Marines, 2,400, and Navy, 3,000. The current cap on Army personnel is 480,000; Air Force 358,800; Marines 172,600, and Navy, 376,000.
Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., asked Wednesday whether President Bush statement that North Korea, Iran and Iraq form an " axis of evil " might prompt them to create a real alliance, retaliating against the United States for any action taken against any of them.
" Most countries realize that to attack us when our blood is up is not a good idea, " Blair said. When the United States is at war, he said, " countries tend to tread carefully. "
The committee's chairman, Rep. Bob Stump, R-Ariz., and its subcommittee chairmen were at the White House for a budget talk, an aide said.