WASHINGTON • The United States army is going to cut 40,000 soldiers from its ranks over the next two years at home and abroad, a defence official said, in a move that will raise doubts about its ability to fight wars.
Under the cost-cutting plan, the army will be down to 450,000 soldiers at the end of the 2017 budget year, its smallest number since before the US entered World War II. In 2013, it argued in budgetary documents that going below 450,000 troops might mean it could not win a war, according to USA Today newspaper.
By comparison, the army swelled to 570,000 men and women during the peak of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the newspaper said.
Some 17,000 civilians working for the army will also be laid off, the official said on Tuesday, confirming the USA Today report.
The paper quoted a document it had obtained and said the cuts are being made to save money. They will affect virtually every army post domestically and abroad.
Another defence official said the army is planning to announce the cuts soon, with USA Today adding that the matter will be addressed this week.
Across-the-board US government budget cuts are also due to start in October and if Congress does not avert these, the army will have to lay off another 30,000 soldiers on top of the 40,000, reported USA Today.
In fact, the troop reductions were initially outlined in February last year, when then Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel unveiled the Pentagon's budget for the 2015 fiscal year. The figures were also included in the Pentagon's four-year planning document, the Quadrennial Defence Review 2014.
USA Today's report comes just a day after President Barack Obama said that the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) will step up its campaign in Syria, while cautioning that a long battle remained.
Brigades stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska will be among those downsized, said USA Today.
Senator Dan Sullivan, a Republican from Alaska, told the paper that the cut "makes no strategic sense". More than a year after ISIS fighters overran much of Iraq and Syria, the US and its allies are struggling to turn the tide against the extremists in an air campaign known as Operation Inherent Resolve.
The Pentagon said last month that it was sending 450 additional US troops to act as advisers to help Iraqi forces take back control of the western city of Ramadi from Islamist fighters.
Speaking to reporters after a briefing at the Pentagon on Monday, Mr Obama warned that the war "will not be quick" and that it is "a "long-term campaign".
He added that more needed to be done to train government forces and Sunni fighters in Iraq, as well as moderate Syrian rebels.
The personnel cuts come as the Pentagon is attempting to absorb nearly US$1 trillion (S$1.36 trillion) in reductions to planned defence spending over a decade.
The White House's emphasis on shifting military assets to the Asia-Pacific region and concerns about Russian aggression in the Arctic require strong forces in Alaska, said Mr Sullivan.
"One person who is going to be very pleased with this is (Russian President) Vladimir Putin," he said.
AGENCE FRANCE -PRESSE, REUTERS