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Military Commanders Wary of Increase in Troops


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.


NPR's Guy Raz takes us through the math and the logistics of deploying 20,000 more troops.

GUY RAZ: Now a couple more numbers here: overall, there are 1.2 million men and women in uniform in the U.S. Armed Forces. Only China has more. So you might ask what's the big deal about sending a few thousand more to Iraq? Well actually a very big deal, says retired Major General Bob Scales.

BOB SCALES: While there may be 1.2 million active duty serving in the military, there are only something like 65 to 70,000 close-combat soldiers.

RAZ: Now, most men and women who serve, don't actually fight. They make up the majority of what's called the Institutional Military. And that's why the Army and Marine officials say it's such a logistical nightmare to increase the size of U.S. ground forces in Iraq. Here's military strategist Stephen Biddle to explain it a bit better.

STEPHEN BIDDLE: If you figure we've got 140,000-odd troops in Iraq, maybe 9,000-odd in the Balkans, 18,000-odd in Afghanistan; when you total up all of the stuff that we've currently got deployed around the world, you end up with something uncomfortably close to half the entire size of the Expeditionary Active Army.

RAZ: The other half of the Active Expeditionary Army, the soldiers who make up more than 80 percent of all fighting troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, are, naturally, at their home bases. And under ideal circumstances they're supposed to serve in Iraq for a year and then go home for at least two years. Well, nothing has worked out ideally in Iraq, so for example, brigades, and that's about 3,500 soldiers, have on average only come back to base for a year. And retired Army Colonel Paul Hughes says that's not enough time for these brigades to recover.

PAUL HUGHES: Regardless of how successful they are in war, they come home with casualties and with broken equipment and such, and they require time to be rebuilt, to be retrained and to be prepared again for deployment.

RAZ: Here's retired Major General John Batiste, who commanded a division in Iraq - or 20,000 troops - from 2004 to 2005.

JOHN BATISTE: There's only so many brigade combat teams, and they're all on a deployment cycle. What happens if there's a requirement somewhere else in the world, or in the United States - to have to deal with some kind of natural disaster?

RAZ: Guy Raz, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Guy Raz is the host, co-creator, and editorial director of three NPR programs, including two of its most popular ones: TED Radio Hour and How I Built This. Both shows are heard by more than 14 million people each month around the world. He is also the creator and co-host of NPR's first-ever podcast for kids, Wow In The World.