WASHINGTON • The United States Army is far more heavily engaged around the world than projected when it began slashing force size several years ago, and its commitments will be hard to maintain in the long run as troop numbers shrink, General Ray Odierno said.
Gen Odierno, the army chief of staff, said last Friday that decisions about cutting the size of the force from 570,000 to the 490,000 currently were made several years ago when Pentagon planners expected a peaceful Europe, a declining commitment in Afghanistan and no return to Iraq. Instead, he said, the army is regularly using three brigades in Eastern Europe because of concerns about Russia's support for rebels in Ukraine. It has another three brigades in Afghanistan, a brigade in Iraq, a brigade in Kuwait, and is rotating a brigade to South Korea, Gen Odierno added.
"These are all pretty significant requirements. If they do not reduce, it will be hard for us to maintain that over a long period of time," he said.
Gen Odierno, who is due to leave office in a few weeks, said he thought insecurity in Eastern Europe and the fight against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants were both long-term problems.
He predicted that defeating ISIS could take 10 to 20 years, far longer than the administration has projected. But without some relief, either in budget cuts or the breadth of commitments, the army may not be able to sustain the pace.
"At some point we're going to have to say what we're not going to do because we're not going to be able to do everything we're being asked to do right now," he said.
Gen Odierno said he had been warning for two years that tight budgets would require the army to cut the active-duty force to 450,000 troops from the current 490,000. He said he was surprised by the recent outcry when the service specified which bases would be hit in the coming years.
"We have been very clear that the army will have to move down to 450,000 with the current budget we have," he said.