WASHINGTON – The Army's top general told Congress he is planning for the possibility of being required to rotate a large force in and out of Iraq for another three years.
Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker (search), the Army chief of staff, told the House Armed Services Committee (search) on Wednesday that "for planning purposes" he told his staff to consider how the Army would replace the force now rotating into Iraq with another force of similar size in 2005 and again in 2006.
If the Iraq commitment turns out to be that lengthy, it would prove Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) wrong in his judgment that the current heavy demand for troop deployments abroad is a temporary "spike."
Rumsfeld has said that because he believes the extra demands will be short-lived, the military does not need more troops. But many in Congress, including Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher (search), D-Calif., and Rep. Ike Skelton (search), D-Mo., have been urging the Pentagon for years to accept an increase.
In an interview, Tauscher said she was surprised Schoomaker told the House panel that Rumsfeld had approved a plan for reorganizing the Army that includes a temporary increase of as many as 30,000 soldiers on active duty.
Schoomaker said he needed the extra manpower for about four years in order to reorganize and increase the number of brigade fighting units from the current 33 to as many as 48.
Skelton, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said in an interview that the panel had not been informed of Rumsfeld's decision. Tauscher said she would discuss it with Rumsfeld on Thursday.
Rumsfeld was exercising an emergency wartime authority, Schoomaker said. Tauscher reminded him that it was Congress' prerogative to set limits on the size of the armed forces.
In the interview, Tauscher said that the Rumsfeld approach amounted to "smoke and mirrors" and that he was attempting to "go around" Congress. "That is not acceptable," she said.
Rep. Heather Wilson (search), R-N.M., welcomed Schoomaker's statement on adding troops. "This marks important progress and I look forward to seeing the details of that plan," Wilson said in a statement.
A decision on when to end the U.S. military presence in Iraq will be made by President Bush and his national security aides, in consultation with American commanders in Iraq. As a service chief, Schoomaker's role is to ensure that soldiers are trained and equipped for any mission.
Of the approximately 105,000 troops going to Iraq this winter and spring to replace the 130,000 who have been there since the start of the war, about 80,000 are Army soldiers. The replacement force, which includes 25,000 Marines, is scheduled to spend a full year in Iraq.
Army officials have said that planning for the 2005 rotation of forces in Iraq will begin February.
The requirement for large numbers of ground forces in Iraq has stretched the Army, which also has major commitments in Afghanistan, South Korea and the Balkans.
Schoomaker told the House panel that the Army has used emergency authority to go beyond the limit set by Congress on the number of soldiers in uniform. He said the Army is about 11,000 above the 482,400 limit.
Skelton said he was concerned that the requirement for large numbers of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan may break the Army.
"This does not mean we should pull back from our commitments," Skelton said. "We can't unring the bell. We're there. We've got to win. We've got to stabilize that country. We cannot afford that to evolve into a civil war."
Even while the Iraq war continues, the Pentagon is planning a new offensive in the two-year-old Afghanistan campaign to try to stop remnants of the Taliban regime and the Al Qaeda terrorist network, officials said Wednesday.
Orders have been issued to prepare equipment and supplies, though the operation will not necessarily require additional troops in the region, where some 11,000 Americans still are deployed, a defense official said on condition of anonymity.
Schoomaker said despite the strain of fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan simultaneously, the Army is enjoying success in recruiting new soldiers.