Chairman Discusses Force Levels, Military Challenges
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 26, 2007 When troops ask the military’s highest-ranking officer questions about the war in Iraq, force levels or tour lengths, Marine Gen. Peter Pace is eager to answer frankly and completely.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff fielded questions Feb. 22 and 23 from active duty, National Guard and Reserve troops in Alaska at the Army’s Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks, and at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage.
After brief opening remarks, Pace told the troops he’d rather answer their questions than “talk at them.” The troops responded with questions on the global picture as well as service-specific policies.
On Iraq, Pace told the troops the president’s decision to “plus-up” the number of troops on the ground is a direct result of unexpected developments in the security situation. He said military leaders had to readjust their initial plan to cut the number of U.S. troops by December of 2006.
The plan called for training and equipping 328,000 Iraqi soldiers and police and then turning the security responsibility over to them. The Iraqi forces were trained and equipped as planned, Pace said, but the security situation took a turn for the worse in February.
“We had the Samarra bombing, which created the enormous strife between Sunni and Shia,” he said.
Military officials’ ensuing planning and analysis led to a plus-up in three areas: increasing the number of U.S. troops by 21,500; increasing Iraqi governance; and increasing economic development “to be able to have jobs for the young men on the streets of Baghdad.”
No number of additional ground troops “would be sufficient without the Iraqi government performing its mission and the economy providing jobs,” Pace stressed. "But those two things cannot happen without security, so the three must move forward in tandem.”
Both in Iraq and Afghanistan, local leaders must solve their nation’s problems based on their own knowledge of their communities, Pace told the men and women in uniform.
“We can help,” he said, “but we are not going to be able to understand all the nuances of the tribal problems in those countries. Only the individuals who live there, only the elected leaders of those countries can properly understand and accommodate the needs of their own people. What we can do is provide enough security to give those governments the opportunity to lead.”
As defense officials increase the number of U.S. troops, he said, the Iraqi government is bringing its forces forward and keeping their promises. Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai, he added, has been “producing as promised for multiple years.”
“We should not be looking to ourselves to reconcile the problems,” the chairman stressed. “We should be looking to support the leaders of those countries in their efforts to determine how to reconcile their differences so they can stop killing each other and love their kids more than they hate each other.”
Pace said the United Kingdom’s decision to cut the number of British troops in Iraq from about 7,000 to about 5,000 came as no surprise to U.S. officials and is an indication of progress.
“The day before Prime Minister Tony Blair announced in his Parliament those troop reductions, I had a very long video teleconference with my counterpart in Great Britain,” he said. “He took me through in great detail exactly what they were doing and why they were doing it.”
The British commander on the ground, along with the Iraqi provincial governor agreed that things were going well enough in the Basra province to allow the British to reduce forces and turn over control to the Iraqi self-government, Pace explained.
“Basically, the governor would have his police and his military doing the principal work and our U.K. counterparts would be able to consolidate onto fewer bases, and … instead of being the ones patrolling, they’d be able to be the ones responding to need.
Pace pointed out that 14 of Iraq’s 18 provinces “are in pretty good shape. Four, which include Baghdad and al Anbar, which is where we’re plussing up, need more help. The other 14 are in various stages of being able to be controlled completely by the Iraqi government.”
Ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have led defense officials to increase the overall size of the Army by 65,000 soldiers and the Marine Corps by 27,000 Marines. Pace said the Air Force is now re-evaluating plans to cut 40,000 airmen over the next four to five years, and determining the right size force to support the larger Army and Marine forces.
“(Air Force Chief of Staff) Gen. Buzz Moseley and his leadership are looking at that,” Pace said. “They’ll get that part right over the next year, and we’ll have it properly budgeted in the next budget submission.”
The intent of increasing the size of the Army and the Marine Corps is to both shorten the tour lengths and to increase time between deployments, he said. The goal is to have “one year out and two years back for the active Army, and one year out and five years back for the Guard and Reserve, as the sustainable level for the all-volunteer force.”
The Army, he said, started out with 33 active brigades, increased to 42, and just recently made the decision to go up to 48. When the 48 brigades are filled, it would allow soldiers to serve “on a one-year-over, two-year-back notional rotation,” he said
“That would allow you to have 16 of your Army brigades overseas and 32 back in ‘dwell,’ getting not only the training they need for the next most likely assignment, but also full spectrum training so that if something pops up someplace else in the world, we’re fully trained and ready for all those events,” Pace said.
The number of National Guard brigade combat teams is being cut from 34 to 28, he said, noting “the difference being that those 28 will be fully equipped, ready-to-go brigades.”
He said this will allow the nation to deploy four or five Army National Guard brigades forward.
Overall, he said, “you’ll have 16 active Army brigades plus four or five National Guard brigades – a total of 20 to 21 Army brigades deployable at any time. The Marines can add another three or four brigade equivalents and you get up to about 24 to 25 brigades that the nation can have deployed at any one time.”
Today, Pace noted, there are 20 brigades either in Iraq or going to Iraq, three in Afghanistan, one in Kosovo and one in Korea. Sustaining 25 deployable brigades also takes into account the possibility of future global problems in Pakistan, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Chad, Algeria, Venezuela, Colombia, Indonesia, Philippines and North Korea.
“If you don’t end up needing 25 deployed,” he added, “then you simply allow yourself to have more dwell time and more training between deployments.”