US military rethinking two-war strategy – officials
By Charles Aldinger
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. military, under stress fromfighting in Iraq and protecting America from terrorism, isdebating whether it can remain ready to fight two big wars atonce, according to defense officials.
The discussion is part of a broad Quadrennial DefenseReview (QDR), in which the Pentagon will propose a new strategyand budget to Congress next February to shape the superpower’sforces for years to come.
The civilian and military officials, who asked not to beidentified, confirmed a report in Tuesday’s New York Times thattop Defense Department planners were challenging longstandingstrategy that requires the armed forces to be prepared to fighttwo major wars at once.
Instead, the newspaper reported, they are weighing whetherto shape the military to mount only one major conventional warwhile devoting more resources to defending U.S. territory andto global antiterrorism efforts in the wake of the 2001 attackson America.
“The QDR debate on two wars is over risks. Risks cantranslate into lives,” one senior military official, who askednot to be identified, told Reuters on Tuesday.
“The questions being debated: Are we really trying tocreate a one-war strategy and build a force to it? Or are wejust changing the strategy because we know what we canrealistically afford to spend?” the official said.
He and others said Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, who willsoon become chairman of the Pentagon’s military Joint Chiefs ofStaff, was pushing the war-readiness debate because of growingU.S. military missions worldwide burden and the cost ofanti-terrorism operations at home and overseas.
A senior Army officer noted that many of the more than1,700 U.S. troops who lost their lives in Iraq died because themilitary had not anticipated the need to spend hundreds ofmillions of dollars on armor to protect military vehiclesagainst improvised explosive devices.
Another official noted that extra money is being spent onbullet-proof vests for guerrilla warfare in Iraq andAfghanistan.
“If you have to spend that kind of money in phase four (thecleanup) of one war, how much will it cost to prepare themilitary to be ready in all areas for two wars,” the officialsaid.
Bryan Whitman, a senior Pentagon spokesman, suggested toreporters on Tuesday that the two-wars issue was among a widerange of subjects under discussion. But he refused to go intodetail and stressed that no decisions had been made.
“I don’t have any quarrel with what was written there”Whitman said of the Times article, based in part on aninterview with Ryan Henry, principal deputy U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy.
Senior Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita denied in alater Defense Department briefing on Tuesday that top officialswere leaning toward changing the two-war strategy.
“They (the talks) have no desired outcome” so far, he said.
But the Times stressed that the debate reflected a growingrecognition that the current burden of maintaining forces inIraq and Afghanistan, along with the other demands of theglobal campaign against terrorism, may force a change inassumptions that have been a foundation of military planning.
One Navy official told Reuters that, even if the UnitedStates can no longer fight two wars at once, publicly backingaway from the strategy was risky because it might temptpotential adversaries China, North Korea and Iran.
“If we say that we can only do one and then we get engagedin one that’s not on the horizon now, does that offer NorthKorea, China or Iran a chance to say ‘Well, they’re going to beengaged for five years, that gives me a leeway with what I wantto do because they don’t have the force structure for two majorcombat operations’,” the official said.