US feels the financial pain of the protracted Iraq war

By Rupert Cornwell

WASHINGTON - In a fresh sign of the strains the Iraq war has placed on the US military, America's top Army officer has refused to submit his service's budget request for the 2008 financial year.

General Pete Schoomaker, Chief of Staff of the Army, said his service could not fulfil its mission within the financial limits set by Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

He wants US$25 billion more.

The Army has been forced to extend the combat tour of an infantry brigade in strife-torn Anbar province to allow the battle-weary unit that is due to replace it to have the minimum 12-month interval between tours at the front.

The change affects up to 4000 men of the 1st Brigade of the 1st Armoured Division, based at Ramadi in the heart of the "Sunni Triangle", who will now have to spend an extra 46 days there before returning to their base in Friedberg, Germany, in mid-January.

The Pentagon also said the 4th Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division would go to Iraq 30 days earlier than scheduled, starting in late October.

The Pentagon said troop rotations could be changed further "based upon changes in the security situation".

Yesterday's Pentagon announcement is the latest evidence of how the war in Iraq and intensifying conflict in Afghanistan are stretching the Army's resources to the limit and beyond.

Instead of cutting back on Iraq deployment, as the Bush Administration had hoped, the Pentagon has had to boost troop strength as sectarian violence has intensified.

Of the 142,000 US troops now in Iraq, nearly 120,000 are Army soldiers.

No less indicative has been Schoomaker's extraordinary decision not to present a budget for the financial year starting in October next year.

This week, Congress will approve a Pentagon budget for the year starting this October of a total US$447 billion ($671 billion) for defence, including a basic Army budget of US$98 billion ($147 billion) and a US$70 billion ($105 billion) supplementary fund to pay for the two wars, and replace equipment lost or worn out in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But Schoomaker insists this is far short of what is required. According to the Los Angeles Times yesterday, he wants US$138.8 billion ($208.3 billion) for the Army in 2007-08 - more than US$25 billion above the limit set by Rumsfeld - and a 41 per cent increase on the allocation for 2006-07.

In the end, he chose to miss the August 15 deadline for submission of a budget.

The Defence Secretary has since agreed to a study group, which is understood to agree with Schoomaker. But after years of watching their basic budget requests chipped away by Rumsfeld and various congressional committees, Army chiefs are now in little mood to compromise.

The Army has a total active-duty strength of 504,000, of whom 400,000 have done at least one tour in Iraq or Afghanistan.

"The Army is coming to the end of its rope in Iraq," said Loren Thompson, a defence analyst at the Lexington Institute, a private research group.

"It does not have enough active-duty military personnel to sustain the current level of effort."


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