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Congress pushes for larger military
WASHINGTON — Members of Congress from both parties are pushing for the first significant increase in the size of the active-duty military in 16 years, despite resistance from the Pentagon.

Call-ups of part-time troops from the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve to fill the ranks in Iraq have intensified the bipartisan sentiment that the Pentagon doesn't have enough troops to fight an extended war on terrorism while keeping enough well-rested, well-trained troops ready for an emergency.

"Momentum is building in Congress for" an increase, says Harald Stavenas, a spokesman for Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. "Finally, everyone has come around to see enough is enough."

"This recognizes the reality in the strain and the stretch in all the services," says Missouri Rep. Ike Skelton, the senior Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. Skelton promises "positive action by our committee early next year."

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld strongly opposes increasing the size of the military on the grounds that the services are not efficiently using the personnel they already have, and increasing the number of troops is enormously expensive. Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita says Rumsfeld "hasn't seen any analysis that convinces him there is a need" for a large increase in active-duty troops.

If Congress forces the administration to add troops, it would mark a turning point in the downsizing of the active-duty military that began before the end of the Cold War. These forces peaked at 2.2 million in 1987 and fell back slightly because of budget concerns. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 speeded up the cuts, shrinking the force to just under 1.5 million troops in 1998, where it has remained.

For years, Congress has generally deferred to the Pentagon on troop strength. But there appears to be growing concern over the issue, even among Republicans. Among the signs of a shift:

• Congress agreed this year to spend $68 million to increase the Army by 2,400 slots, about 0.5% of the current 480,000-strong force.

• A bill has been introduced in the House to increase the size of the Army, Marines and Air Force by roughly 8% over five years. The bill would add 40,000 troops to the Army, bringing it to 522,400, while the Air Force would grow by 28,700 to 388,000 and the Marines by 15,000 to 190,000. "If the administration is going to deploy thousands of troops across the globe, the size of our military needs to reflect that," says Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., author of the bill.

• Fifty-four of the 61 members of the House Armed Services Committee, joined by the top Republican and Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, have sent President Bush a letter urging him to expand the U.S. combat force. The letter also asks Bush to reassess the ratio between active and reserve forces used in long deployments because of concerns that the military is overly reliant on the Guard and Reserve in the war on terrorism.

The drive to deal with the issue appears stronger in the House, where Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the No. 3 Republican leader, plans to push for action early next year. But the Senate has similar concerns.

"We are dangerously stretched thin in the Army and the other services," says Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., a West Point graduate.

Contributing: Dave Moniz and Kathy Kiely

 
 
 
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