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Stresses still high on U.S. military

Bush announced Thursday that Army tours will be cut to 12 months.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / April 11, 2008

Leaving: Soldiers from the 37th Infantry at a ceremony last week in Fort Hood, Texas, before deploying to Iraq.

david morris/killeen daily herald/ap

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The US military for the immediate future continues to face daunting arithmetic: continued war, and too few warriors to go around.

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Shorter tours in Iraq could help. President Bush's announcement Thursday that he is reducing Army combat deployments from 15 to 12 months for troops sent overseas later this year is aimed at reducing stress on soldiers and their families.

But 140,000 US troops will remain in Iraq at least through September, per the recommendation of top commander Gen. David Petraeus. Many military experts believe that stabilizing the situation there could require a substantial US presence for years to come.

The bottom line: Many ground units have deployed multiple times to Iraq, and "people are tired," according to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen. Army leaders say the readiness of their brigades is down, their equipment is worn, and their ability to respond to any new contingency is questionable.

"We face a large and growing gap between our military commitments and our military capabilities. Something has to give," Andrew Bacevich, a West Point graduate and professor of international relations at Boston University, said in a Senate hearing Wednesday.

By most accountings Iraq is now the third-longest conflict in US history, shorter only than Vietnam and the Revolutionary War.

More than 500,000 US troops have served in Iraq since the 2003 invasion. Almost 200,000 have been deployed there more than once.

In public appearances this spring, Army leaders have been blunt about the effects of this pace on their soldiers. In a recent speech Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey, for instance, said that his service "is not a hollow or broken force" but that there is no question it is "stretched and stressed."

By the Army's count, it has conducted five surges into Iraq, including the most recent addition of extra brigade combat teams to tamp down Baghdad violence.

The current surge "took all the stroke out of the shock absorber for the US Army," Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Richard Cody told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week. He meant that if a conflict breaks out anywhere else in the world, there are no fully ready Army units that could be sent to handle it.