Sunday, April 29, 2007

Fighting the Wrong War at the Wrong Time?

Did the Army increase tours of duty to get more troops or perhaps to avoid offending Congress over the current funding flap?

General Casey wants the Army's planned expansion accelerated by two years:

The Army has set 2012 as its target date for a force expansion to 547,000 troops, but Gen. George Casey said he told his staff to have the soldiers ready earlier.

"I said that's too long. Go back and tell me what it would take to get it done faster," he said in an interview with The Associated Press during a stop in Hawaii.

The Army has 30,000 more troops to go for a new end strength since the increase in total numbers includes temporary increases already in place.

The need for the troops by 2010 rather than 2012 is clear from the increase in Army tours to fifteen months, right? Clearly we need more troops faster.

Apparently not:

When the U.S. Department of Defense announced that army troops would have their 12 month tours in Iraq extended to fifteen months, it was believed that a troop shortage was the reason. Well, that's what the Department of Defense was content to let the media and pundits rattle on about. But the real reason was money. Political grandstanding has delayed the cash for Iraq operations, and that causes all manner of administrative problems. A simple solution for many of those problems (which are difficult to describe in 25 words or less) was to simply extend the duty tours by three months. This actually costs some extra money, as troops are given extra pay and vacation days when they serve more than twelve months in a tour of duty. But in the end, being able to delay call ups and troops movements by three months, provides time for Congress to come up with the needed money, and for the bean counters to prevent legal and administrative problems arising from the absence of cash or credit.

You know, I've long thought the Army was too small. But I believed that efforts to transfer Army slots to civilian positions, switch units from Cold War-era tasks to what is needed now, and rebalancing active and reserve units were effectively expanding our Army. I believed these should have been given a chance before the costly step of increasing the total size was taken.

When the military said it needed more troops, I accepted their judgment and figured we must have reached the limits of working with what we had.

Now I am wondering about my assumption that we need more troops and that the past methods to expand combat brigades are exhausted.

I know the military plays games like any other bureaucracy to advocate for more money, but when a budget advantage is bought at the price of convincing a few more percentage points of our people that the Iraq campaign is breaking our Army, I have to ask what the Army thinks it is doing? We are in a race against Congress to win this war, and providing a little more ammo to the ranks of those who want to bug out before we win is short-sighted.

When the funding to expand the Army is voted for, perhaps the Army will reduce the tours to 12 months. I had assumed we must not have the rotation base to support 20 brigades in Iraq and Afghanistan, though with close to 40 brigades in the active Army force and 9 more in the Marine Corps, I didn't really understand why we couldn't sustain one year on and one year off for about 20 brigades in combat even with a short overlap between units coming and going. Using a couple National Guard brigades each year would further reduce the strain. I was apparently hasty in assuming my rudimentary calculations were in error.

Win the war against our enemies first. Worry about budgets later.