Pentagon Says Iraq Effort Limits Ability to Fight Other Conflicts
By THOM SHANKER
Published: May 3, 2005
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WASHINGTON, May 2 - 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
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
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
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
Mr. Bush said he had asked General Myers, "Do you feel that we've limited
our capacity to deal with other problems because of our troop levels in
"And the answer is no, he didn't feel a bit limited," Mr. Bush said. "It
feels like we got plenty of capacity."
Late Monday, a Pentagon official dismissed any serious contradiction between
the president and the general. "The two comments are consistent in that no
one in the military feels at all limited in the ability to respond to any
contingency," the official said. "What the risk assessment discusses is the
nature of the response."
Another Pentagon official emphasized that the risk assessment should be
understood as a rating of the military's ability to successfully perform its
mission based on a set of standards set by the Joint Staff, which is
different from the broad statement of military capability given by the
president at his news conference.
In the report, General Myers wrote, the military faces "moderate" risk in
its mission to protect the United States, and he assessed the risk for
preventing conflict - including surprise attack - as "moderate, but trending
Though the general wrote that the military forces "will succeed in any"
major combat operation, he added that "they may be unable to meet
expectations for speed or precision as detailed in our current plans."
The annual "Chairman's Risk Assessment," which is required by Congress,
warned that additional major combat operations "may result in significantly
extended campaign timelines, and achieving campaign objectives may result in
higher casualties and collateral damage."
The classified assessment is a formal acknowledgment by General Myers, who
serves as the senior military adviser to both President Bush and Defense
Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, of a series of strains: those placed on
military personnel by large and lengthy overseas deployments; those placed
on weapons and vehicles by wear and tear; and those placed on war planners
trying to counter potential adversaries even though forces previously
committed to such places as South Korea are now engaged elsewhere.
Even so, the assessment notes steps already under way to mitigate this risk,
and concludes that at the broadest global and strategic levels, the risk "is
significant, but trending lower."
The half-dozen senior officials who discussed the chairman's assessment
seemed motivated at least in part by concerns that its findings might be
misinterpreted by adversaries as an admission of vulnerability, and be seen
as an invitation to adventurism that could lead to war.
In case of armed conflict, "There is no doubt what the outcome would be,"
said one senior official. "But it may not be as pretty," said another.
The assessment acknowledges the important role played by the demonstration
of American military resolve in deterring adversaries.
"Our ability to manage the perceptions of our adversaries is critical,"
General Myers wrote. "Our nation's steadfast resolve has been demonstrated
by our actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, and selected operations" in the
campaign against terrorism. "This in itself is a strong deterrent and should
serve to restrain" the actions of adversaries, he wrote.
General Myers noted that the American military does not face "extreme risk,"
the highest level, in any of the categories analyzed in the report. Among
the steps he listed as being in progress were substantial improvements in
coordinating military efforts with civil authorities, who are "playing a
critical role in disrupting potential terrorist attacks against the United
States," he wrote.
Overseas, terrorist sanctuaries have been reduced and the Navy and Air Force
have shown they can quickly deploy weapons and personnel to deter
adversaries. One example cited by General Myers was the decision to move
heavy bombers from bases in the United States to airfields in the Pacific to
deter potential hostile action by North Korea when ground forces in the
region - those usually assigned to a contingency on the Korean peninsula -
began moving toward Iraq in advance of the war there.
At the same time, the military has learned how to better "maintain and
sustain a campaign level of effort" through the mission in Iraq, and the
Army in particular is reorganizing its forces to create more units that can
be deployed. But even though adjustments to the organization of the active
and reserve components, and the Army's overall restructuring, will
eventually correct shortfalls in deployable troop strength, "this will take
several more years to complete," the assessment states. At present, there
are about 138,000 American troops in Iraq, and about 17,000 in Afghanistan.
In an upbeat final paragraph, General Myers told Congress that the armed
forces "remain the most professional, best trained, and best equipped
military in the world.
"Our ability to project power, anywhere in the world, remains second to
none," he added. "The dedication, commitment, and sacrifice of the men and
women of our Armed Forces ensure success in every challenge."