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Rumsfeld Asks Army to Consider Shorter Rotations

June 25, 2004|John Hendren | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has asked the Army to consider shorter tours of duty for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, while his choice for a new commander in Iraq acknowledged Thursday that the military might seek 25,000 additional troops there.

In a June 14 memorandum, Rumsfeld asked the Army's top civilian and uniformed leaders to explain whether they thought reducing tours from one year to as little as six months would be beneficial.

"I would be interested to hear from you as to why you think you should keep doing 12-month rotations, and, if you were to change to 6, 7, 8 or 9 months, how you would do it and what would be the pros and cons," Rumsfeld said in the memo to acting Army Secretary Les Brownlee and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, a copy of which was obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

Rumsfeld asked for an answer by July 9 and noted that he had met with Marine officials to discuss their system of seven-month stints in Iraq and Afghanistan. A spokesman said Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Michael W. Hagee convinced Rumsfeld that seven-month rotations were the least disruptive.

Rumsfeld's memo reflects what military officials say is the extent of his concern about the increasing strain on Army forces as 138,000 American troops remain in Iraq -- some for the second time.

"The secretary has recognized that we have two different kinds of deployments, two different standards," a senior defense official said on condition of anonymity.

"There was a perceived inequity.... It makes him wonder whether or not there is a single, optimal way" to deploy troops, the official said.

Meanwhile Thursday, Army Gen. George W. Casey told Congress that top commanders were considering adding 15,000 to 25,000 troops to the 138,000 now in Iraq. Casey said Gen. John P. Abizaid, who, as head of the U.S. Central Command, is directing the Iraq war, is considering adding five brigades to the Iraq force.

Casey said Abizaid was merely engaging in "prudent planning" and had not yet made any request.

In a confirmation hearing on his nomination to succeed Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez as the top U.S. ground commander in Iraq, Casey said escalating violence associated with next week's transfer of power from the U.S.-led coalition to an interim Iraqi government would prevent a troop reduction.

At the hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Casey agreed with Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who said that "success or failure may be dictated by what happens in the next few months."

Rumsfeld's tour-of-duty memo was one of hundreds of notes the secretary distributes each month to officials throughout the Pentagon. Recipients refer to them as "snowflakes" because they descend so prolifically from Rumsfeld's third-floor office.

Although the secretary has voiced concern about the stress of troop rotations on the force, he has consistently maintained that more American soldiers are unnecessary in Iraq and in the Army -- despite congressional efforts to expand the size of the Army. He has often said that commanders are not asking for more troops.

Marines routinely deploy abroad for six to seven months out of every two years. Hagee told Rumsfeld that the schedule offers more predictability for Marines, their families and the employers of reservists and maximizes the effectiveness of Marines in the field by pulling them out before they become too fatigued, Marine spokesman Capt. Dan McSweeney said.

"We felt that this model worked for us, and the commandant explained that to the secretary of Defense, and the secretary of Defense agreed," he said.

Army officials insist that rotations shorter than 12 months would unnecessarily disrupt the service, forcing transitions of more than 100,000 troops more frequently at higher cost, leaving soldiers less familiar with the terrain they must secure.

Asked about the Rumsfeld memo, an Army spokesman referred a reporter to a July 2003 news conference by Gen. John Keane, then the Army's vice chief of staff. Keane said yearlong tours were optimal to "instill predictability" and minimize potential disruption of fighting units.

Army officials remain satisfied with yearlong tours, a senior official said Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"The plan released last July by Gen. Keane has remained the template for all rotations," he said.

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