US defence chief seeks bigger army

United States Defence Secretary Robert Gates called on Thursday for a permanent boost in the size of the army and marine corps, the military branches most strained by Iraq, at a likely cost of $15-billion a year.

Gates recommended that President George Bush add 92 000 troops to the two services over five years, bringing the army to 547 000 soldiers and the marine corps to 202 000 service members.

The new defence secretary said the increase was needed for the long-term fight against terrorism.

“The emphasis will be on increasing combat capability,” Gates said at a White House news conference to discuss Bush’s new plan for the Iraq war.

“We should recognise that while it may take some time for these troops to become available for deployment, it is important that our men and woman in uniform know that additional manpower and resources are on the way,” Gates said.

Bush said on Wednesday that he would send more than 21 000 additional US troops into the most violent areas of Iraq—Baghdad and Anbar—to establish security and improve training of Iraqi forces.

There are now about 130 000 US troops in Iraq.

Defence officials have long said a permanent increase to the size of the army and marine corps was needed to cope with increased strains from current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and other ongoing operations globally.

It also is needed to ensure the US is ready for future operations, defence officials and analysts have said.

“These increases are long overdue, because US ground forces are stretched in Iraq to a degree where they could not cope with emergencies elsewhere,” said Loren Thompson, defence analyst at the Lexington Institute.

“By adding troops, it will be possible not only to cover the world more effectively, but to give war-fighters much needed training in foreign languages, counter-insurgency and the like,” he said.

Gates proposed adding 65 000 troops to the army and 27 000 to the marine corps. That could be done in two steps, under his recommendation.

First, the recent temporary increases of 30 000 soldiers and 5 000 marines would be made permanent. Then troops would be added annually over five years to reach the targeted totals.

The bill for such a 92 000-troop increase would add billions of dollars a year to the annual defence budget.

According to the army, every 10 000 troops costs $1,2-billion for salaries and training.
That does not include the cost of equipment needed for the additional soldiers. The marine corps could not immediately provide comparable costs but defence analysts said they were similar to those of the Army.

Costs would be added gradually as the services’ troop levels rise.—Reuters

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