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US army reserve becoming 'broken force," commander warns

AFP | January 6 2005

Faced with lengthy and grueling deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US army reserve is rapidly turning into "a broken force" and may not be able to meet its operational requirements in the future, its commander acknowledged in a memorandum that became public late Wednesday.

The comments by Lieutenant General James Helmly came as Congress prepared to consider another multi-billion-dollar request for financing the war on terror and was expected to raise new questions about the sustainability of the war in Iraq without reintroducing the draft.

The United States is in the process of boosting its force in Iraq to 150,000 ahead of the country's general election scheduled for January 30. Army reserve soldiers make up about 20 percent of that contingent. Together with the National Guard, they constitute more than 40 percent of the American ground force in the country.

The document, dated December 20 and addressed to Army Chief of Staff General Peter Schoomaker, contains several recommendations on ways to address the manpower problem, mainly through broadening the scope on "involuntary" call-ups.

But it also contains scathing criticism of current military personnel policies and warns of dire consequences for the US military, if they are maintained.

The purpose of the memorandum, Helmly writes, is to inform top commanders "of the army reserve's inability" under current procedures "to meet mission requirements associated with Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom and to reset and regenerate its forces for follow-on and future missions."

The general went on to say the danger that his troops would be unable to fulfill all of their obligations was "grave," stressing ominously that the reserve "is rapidly degenerating into a 'broken' force."

The memorandum was first reported early Wednesday by The Baltimore Sun newspaper, but was leaked in its entirety to the Internet later in the day.

A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed its authenticity to AFP. An official army spokesman declined to comment but did not dismiss the document, saying the Department of the Army was likely to comment on it Thursday.