Thursday, May 14, 2009

Pentagon, Senators See Skills Mismatch in War Zone

May 14, 2009 – 1:50 p.m.

Pentagon leaders and Senate Armed Services Committee members voiced concerns Thursday about a shortage of needed skills among U.S. military and civilian personnel working in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Adm. Mike Mullen , chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the war effort is suffering from a shortage of military personnel known as “enablers” — those with non-lethal specialties, such as linguists, intelligence officers, engineers and medics.

“The focus on enablers is intense and constant and has been for months, because we are short,” Mullen said.

Jack Reed , D-R.I., advocated retraining U.S. forces for the jobs most in demand. Ben Nelson , D-Neb., wondered aloud if Guard and Reserve troops could help, but Mullen said the help could not come soon enough, and reservists also need a break from the stresses of constant warfare.

Also needed in Afghanistan, Mullen said, are civilians that can help with development and reconstruction work. He pointed out there are only 13 development experts in all of southern part of the country.

“We need people with slide rules, shovels and teaching degrees,” he said.

Mullen gave a blunt assessment of the stresses felt by troops and their families from constant deployments.

Troops need more time at home, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates conceded, but he warned that they’re not likely to get it anytime soon.

Some senators suggested a temporary increase in the size of the Army beyond its current 547,400 soldiers. But Gates sought to discourage such a move. “The question is whether the increase beyond the level where the Army and Marine Corps already are is sustainable over the long term,” Gates said, suggesting the answer is “no.”

Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin , D-Mich., said he might seek more spending to train and equip Afghan security forces instead.

“With the cost of adding one more U.S. soldier in Afghanistan equal to the cost of adding 60 or more Afghan soldiers, it makes sense to invest in growing the Afghan security forces faster,” Levin said.

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