For the last two years the Bush administration has insisted that the war in Iraq has not handicapped the military. To the contrary, the administration has insisted that our military is stronger than ever. Last month, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld gave a speech in which he stated that the armed services “is probably as strong and capable as it has ever been in the history of this country. They are more experienced, more capable, better equipped than ever before.” But a report on military supplies from the Government Accountability Office, the nonpartisan investigative office of Congress, indicates that Secretary Rumsfeld is seriously mistaken.
The prepositioning of military supplies is a key component of the overall strategic planning of the Department of Defense. It allows the Defense Department to outfit combat-ready forces in days rather than the weeks it would take if the forces and necessary equipment and supplies had to be shipped from the United States to the site of the conflict. The military uses prepositioning programs to store combat and support equipment near areas with a high probability for conflict and to increase response times. Although the Navy has little supply programs the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps are all required to stock significant supplies.
The Army’s program maintains supplies in warehouses and on ships around the world, much of which serves combat forces. According to the GAO report the Army’s 14 supply programs, some of which are designated for special operations forces and prisoner handling, have shortages that are considerably lower than the program requirements.
The Army has long maintained storage sites in Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. But the report revealed that few stocks remain there because they have been dispersed to support operations in Iraq.
To complicate the shortages, the report noted that significant supply stocks of the Army have deteriorated. At a large prepositioning supply base in South Korea the GAO found that the Army’s prepositioned stocks were in poor condition and that much of the equipment was overdue for scheduled maintenance. Army officials in South Korea admitted that regular maintenance had not been performed in years. The GAO found that equipment was being stored outside and had corroded, reducing the ability to use this equipment in the event of a conflict.
The Marine Corps has exhausted 75 percent of its supplies on one-third of its prepositioning ships owing to the war in Iraq. It has also depleted considerable equipment from a major supply site in Norway, resulting in a 29 percent shortage. And Marine officials told the GAO that they were unsure when and if they would return the supplies, because they are keeping them in Iraq to serve Marine rotations.
Likewise, the Air Force has used significant portions of its prepositioned equipment and supplies to support combat operations in Iraq. As a result, its supply programs are dangerously low. As much as 43 percent of the Air Force’s prepositioned supplies have been depleted. The GAO acknowledged, “If a conflict arises in the near term, these stocks would not be available for use as it is unclear when these stocks will be refilled.” It’s difficult, if not downright impossible, to understand how the military can be “as capable as it has ever been” considering the shortages.
The report noted that the Air Force is experiencing a critical shortage of fuel storage containers. The fuel is used to supply military aircraft. Air Force officials confirmed to the GAO that owing to the war a large number of its fuel storage containers have been shipped to Iraq. In fact, the officials characterized the impact of the shortage as its highest operational risk.
The report also confirmed that the military faced critical shortages before it ever went to war. The Army had a significant shortage of supplies prior to deployment to Iraq. Initially, the Army attempted to obscure this shortage by requiring units deployed to Iraq to bring their own supplies. But the report noted that even after entering Iraq “the Army had shortages including food, water, fuel, construction materials, and ammunition.”
The available stocks of these supplies were inadequate and it took the Army months to make up for the shortages. And in some cases, they still haven’t. As late as March 2005 the Army had a 79 percent shortage of repair parts. It doesn’t take a military expert to understand that the Army can’t possibly be “better equipped than ever before” when its troops don’t even have enough food or bullets.
The GAO warned, “Should a new conflict arise in the near term, [military] commanders would likely face even more difficult operational challenges.” This is strikingly different from President Bush’s favorite mantra that the military is “the best trained and best equipped in the world.” Practically any speech he gives on the military or Iraq contains this cliché. It’s increasingly obvious that the Bush administration is increasingly out of touch with reality.
Gene C. Gerard has taught history, religion, and ethics for 14 years at several colleges in the Southwest, and is a contributing author to the forthcoming book Americans at War, by Greenwood Press. He writes a blog for the world news web site OrbStandard at: www.orbstandard.com/GGerard.
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