Published January 11, 2007
WASHINGTON – To get a sense of the sheer numbers involved, 92,000 Marines and soldiers — the military troop increase sought by Defense Secretary Robert Gates in a five-year plan announced Thursday — could almost fill the University of Michigan's football stadium.
The stadium would have 15,501 seats to spare, enough for strong attendance at the average school basketball game.
"The president announced last night that he would strength our military for the long war against terrorism by authorizing an increase in the overall strength of the Army and the Marine Corps," Gates said in a press conference at the White House. "I am recommending to him a total increase in the two services of 92,000 soldiers and Marines over the next five years: 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 Marines.
"The emphasis will be on increasing combat capability. This increase will be accomplished in two ways. First, we will propose to make permanent the temporary increase of 30,000 for the Army and 5,000 for the Marine Corps. Then we propose to build up from that base in annual increments of 7,000 troops a year for the Army and 5,000 for the Marine Corps until the Marine Corps reaches a level of 202,000, and the Army would be at 547,000," Gates said.
Military hawks on both sides of the political spectrum say the request for more troops is long overdue. Current U.S. active duty strength stands at about 1.38 million troops worldwide with 1.09 million deployed at home or in U.S. territories and approximately 132,000 in Iraq and 97,000 in Europe.
A University of Texas study based on military and U.S. Census numbers shows peak enlistment levels since 1950 were approximately 1.6 million Army soldiers in 1951 and 1971. The Marines hit their highs of 220,000 in 1951 and 300,000 in 1969.
Compared to the international arena, the U.S. military might not appear overwhelming. China had approximately 2.8 million military personnel in 2001. According to the most recent available data; India has about 1.3 million troop and Russia's military is about 1.5 million strong.
The CIA estimates that North Korea's available military force could be as high as 5 million, but the agency doesn't attempt to put a number on actual ready-force numbers. Piecing together information from various places, North Korea appears to have about 1 million active duty troops.
But sheer size of the militaries are not comparable, says retired Lt. Col. Oliver North, a FOX News contributor.
"The combat power of America's military is unrivaled in the world in large part due to technology, and the extraordinary quality of the force that we have today," he said.
North said that the U.S. military has something many of its military rivals don't: an all-volunteer, well-trained and equipped army.
"Conscript armies, no matter what country they're from, can never match the education level, the intelligence and today's combat experience of the U.S. Armed Forces," North said. Add the fact that the United States spends billions of dollars on weapons technology, "Where other countries might need 50 troops to carry out a certain mission, we need one lance corporal."
The value of those added factors means the United States also doesn't need to have the number of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines that it had in prior years. The more sophisticated technology, contributing to the way war is fought, has helped drive down casualty rates, North said.
After four years in Iraq, a little more than 3,000 troops have been killed and more than 20,000 wounded. But in Vietnam — where North served — more than 58,000 troops were killed. In World War II, 292,000 U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines were killed in battle.
That's not to say that the military should not be increased, said North, who worked on President Reagan's National Security Council staff. He said he's confident that the 92,000 number has been well-vetted by military planners and that an increase in troop strength is needed to help win the war in Iraq and against terror.
On Wednesday, leading up to President Bush's speech, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., retired Gen. Wesley Clark and other Democratic leaders spoke to reporters united in criticism of the president's plan to "surge" more than 20,000 troops into Iraq. But Reed and Clark acknowledged that the size of the U.S. forces needs to be increased.
"For the first time since the era that General Clark and I served, in the '60s and '70s, we see an Army that's not ready for strategic deployment elsewhere. The strategic reserve has been exhausted; we have to replenish that," Reed said.
Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Pa., the outspoken Vietnam veteran who has been calling for a withdrawal from Iraq for more than a year, said he too believes America's overall military might is too weak.
Murtha spokeswoman Megan Grote said Thursday that Murtha did not immediately have a reaction to Gates' announcement of additional troops, but "Mr. Murtha is definitely in favor of an overall buildup" outside of Iraq. Grote pointed to a Sept. 13 House resolution proposed by Murtha that heavily criticized then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
The resolution took aim at Rumsfeld's prosecution of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the secretary's so-called failure to "address the flagging readiness of U.S. ground forces, in particular the U.S. Army, whose preparedness for war has eroded to levels not witnessed by our country in decades, thus hindering the ability of the U.S. to respond to other potential threats to national security." The House did not consider the resolution.
Thomas Donnelly, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., and military scholar, said that the proposed buildup is "a significant amount," but still pales in comparison to what he claims is the best comparison level — the active-duty Army force of 780,000 at the end of the Cold War.
"I'm not sure in the long-run it's going to be enough," Donnelly said of Gates' proposal.
He said the on-land forces are where the U.S. military has seen the most cuts since the end of the Cold War and is where it is obvious that more troops are needed. He said Iraq and Afghanistan are case studies of how an invasion force doesn't need to be large, while a post-invasion force needs to be substantial.
One thing Americans must keep in mind, Donnelley said, is that "it's the Americans' job, like it or not, to act as the guarantor of the global international system. China doesn't do that — I'm not sure we would want them to — and likewise the Russians. ... If you expect to live in a decent international environment, and a secure one, it is almost exclusively the responsibility of the United States."
FOXNews.com's Melissa Drosjack contributed to this report.