WASHINGTON - The Army's ability to train its forces is "increasingly at risk" because of the nation's protracted commitments to Iraq and Afghanistan, the general in charge of training has told the Army's chief of staff.
In a Feb. 16 memo to Gen. George W. Casey, Gen. Martin Dempsey, commander of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, said the Army has lost thousands of uniformed trainers because of troop demands, has had to put junior officers in charge of some key training functions, and has delayed initial instruction for nearly 500 pilots because it doesn't have enough trainers.
Only 30 percent of the instructors at Army training schools are in the military, Dempsey said, with the Army increasingly dependent on outside contractors.
"We are behind in integrating lessons learned, developing training and updating doctrine," he wrote in the memo, a copy of which McClatchy obtained. "We are undermanned in our efforts to design the future Army."
Dempsey's warning comes as the Obama administration presses ahead with plans to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan by 30,000 and has committed a growing number of military trainers to doubling the size of the Afghan security forces. Since Dempsey took command of TRADOC in December 2008, the command has sent 889 troops, contractors and civilians to Iraq and 675 to Afghanistan.
Casey, who has frequently warned that the long-term commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan have strained the Army, said Dempsey's memo didn't surprise him.
He said there weren't enough soldiers to commit more troops to training, and relief would come from two developments: the continued U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and the planned growth of the Army by 65,000 soldiers by the end of 2011.
There are 96,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, 78,000 in Afghanistan.
Dempsey wrote that since September 2001, the number of soldiers assigned to training and other planning responsibilities has declined by 7,300, while the number of civilian employees has declined by 4,500. His command has hired 9,000 outside contractors. Outside contractors are teaching 68 percent of the courses at the Army's Intelligence School, he said.
Dempsey also said the manpower shortage has affected ROTC training programs, particularly at universities that provide large numbers of junior officers to the Army.
A shortage of captains and majors with combat experience is particularly troubling, he said.