Military leaders said yesterday that they plan to accelerate the Army’s expansion, adding 74,000 soldiers by 2010, not 2012 as originally planned. The goal, they say, is to relieve the strain on troops currently serving while maintaining the numbers necessary to continue the war effort.
Sounds great, right? Hire more soldiers, give the troops on the ground a much-needed break. But where are they going to get these people? Defense Secretary Robert Gates specified that the recruiting needs to be done without forcing anyone to stay or loosening entry standards. That might be tough, considering how much the Army has already had to widen its net to meet recruiting goals. In addition, a big part of the plan involves retention—convincing servicemen and women not to leave the Army at the end of their tours. While in a perfect world this might mean rest between deployments, practically speaking, it probably means more time in Iraq.
To top it all off, last time I checked, General Petraeus had announced plans for a troop drawdown beginning next spring. Bush endorsed the plan provided he saw evidence of progress. But given the Army’s current numbers, a troop reduction is inevitable. Does the expansion push mean there won’t be a drawdown after all? More likely that even with the departure of 30,000 soldiers, we’re still planning for the very long term.