US Defence Secretary Robert Gates announced Monday a temporary increase in the troop strength of the US Army by up to 22,000 soldiers over the next three years to cope with the continuing demands of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
AFP - The US Army is to boost its ranks temporarily by up to 22,000 troops to ease the strain of deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced Monday.
"Much has changed over the last two years, causing us to reassess whether we are properly sized to support current operational needs," Gates said, adding that the army would swell to 569,000 soldiers, up from the current 547,000.
"The persistent pace of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last several years has steadily increased the number of troops not available for deployment in the army."
The military, with President Barack Obama's "strong support," decided that continuing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as political turmoil in Pakistan, meant its ability to fill troop vacancies was "at risk," Gates said.
According to current deployment estimates, he added, the challenge was a "temporary" one that would peak in the coming year and abate over the next three years.
Obama has ramped up the US effort in Afghanistan, dispatching 21,000 more troops to fight a mounting Taliban-led insurgency just as the United States draws down in Iraq as part of a bilateral agreement signed last year.
The increase was the second since 2007, when Gates boosted the size of the army and marine corps shortly after taking office.
Acknowledging the decision meant "additional tough choices" for the Pentagon, Gates said he was "convinced this is an important and necessary step to ensure that we continue to properly support the needs of our commanders in the field while providing relief for our current force and their families."
In addition to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, the expansion also aimed to help the army cope with stop-loss, a controversial policy under which soldiers stay in service beyond their original enlistment dates.
"The decision to eliminate the routine use of stop-loss authority in the army also requires a larger personnel float for each deploying unit to compensate for those whose contract expires during the period of deployment," Gates said.
The Pentagon chief said the additional forces did not necessarily mean that the United States would send more troops to Afghanistan on top of the fresh reinforcements Obama has ordered.
The new US commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, is set to deliver his assessment to the Pentagon next month and already has indicated that he will not shy away from proposing more US troops, regardless of political and economic considerations.
Admiral Mike Mullen, the top US military officer, said he had grown "increasingly concerned over the last year and a half about stress on the force and our ability to meet the demands out there. This temporary increase helps us address that concern."
But he stressed that "it's not just about relief. It's about renewing our efforts to fight these two wars."
The Army expansion was smaller than a proposal by Independent Senator Joe Lieberman, a senior lawmaker on the Senate Armed Services Committee, to add 30,000 additional troops.
"I commend Secretary Gates for making this decision, which will provide much-needed relief to our brave soldiers and their families," Lieberman said in a statement.
"I have already introduced an amendment to give Secretary Gates the new authority he will need to add up to 30,000 additional soldiers, and I call upon my colleagues to vote to support our troops this week," as part of an amendment to the 2010 defense authorization bill currently being considered by the Senate.
The Pentagon's announcement came as senior officers cite repeated combat tours as a likely factor in the steady rise of suicides and other stress-related troubles in the US military over the past two years.
For years, the suicide rate in the military was lower than among the wider civilian population. But that pattern changed in 2008. Last year, 128 soldiers took their lives, up from 115 in 2007.
The number of suspected suicides in the first half of 2009 reached 88, compared to 67 for the same period last year, according to recently released figures.
Date created : 2009-07-20