Pentagon Says Iraq Effort Limits Ability to Fight Elsewhere
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs yesterday told Congress that our war in Iraq is putting a strain on U.S. ability to fight elsewhere, should the need arise.
The concentration of American troops and weapons in Iraq and Afghanistan limits the Pentagon’s ability to deal with other potential armed conflicts, the military’s highest ranking officer reported to Congress on Monday. The officer, Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, informed Congress in a classified report that major combat operations elsewhere in the world, should they be necessary, would probably be more protracted and produce higher American and foreign civilian casualties because of the commitment of Pentagon resources in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A half dozen Pentagon civilian and military officials were discussing the outlines of the report on Monday as it was being officially delivered to Congress; one government official provided a copy to The New York Times. The officials who discussed the assessment demanded anonymity because it is a classified document. General Myers cited reduced stockpiles of precision weapons, which were depleted during the invasion of Iraq, and the stress on reserve units, which fulfill the bulk of combat support duties in Iraq, as among the factors that would limit the Pentagon’s ability to prevail as quickly as war planners once predicted in other potential conflicts. The report this year acknowledges that the nation’s armed forces are operating under a higher level of risk than cited in the report last year, said Pentagon and military officials who have read both documents.
Despite the limitations, General Myers was unwavering in his assessment that American forces would win any major combat operation. The armed forces, he concluded, are “fully capable” of meeting all Washington’s military objectives.
The general’s report appears to provide a slightly different assessment than President Bush offered at a news conference last week when he said the number of American troops in Iraq would not limit Washington military options elsewhere.
Well, no. Myers was stating a truism, similar to a mother’s admonishment that “I’ve only got two hands” when being rushed to do something.
The war in Iraq has a substantial part of our deployable force occupied, has expended a lot of supplies, accelerated the need for repair for various high ticket items, and fatigued our troops. Wars do that. Even relatively minor operations such as our intervention in Kosovo did this, virtually exhausting our supply of certain missiles.
Our military capacity is not unlimited, despite our enormous annual expenditures. Still, it’s difficult to conceive of a scenario that would contradict Bush’s statement. If action is needed in North Korea or Iran or anywhere we could reasonably envision conflict, we’ll take it. Now, if numerous such crises broke out simultaneously, we would be in great difficulty. But that would be true with or without Iraq. Of course, if that sort of situation emerged, our troops could be mobilized from Iraq.