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How the US Army must exit Iraq

The Army chief ties the war to shifting to a new era of conflict – assuming the US can win.

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Long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and, lately, longer tours of duty, have "unquestionably stressed and stretched" American soldiers, said US Army Chief of Staff George Casey last week. Get used to it, he seemed to say. Beyond these wars, the US will likely face "persistent conflict" overseas.

Strains on the volunteer Army are a sign of a military "out of balance," as General Casey put it, with the need for the United States to prepare for new types of military action – and not your grandfather's shorter, conventional wars.

The stress, as heard in complaints among GIs serving in battle zones, is showing up especially during the surge in Iraq (an extra 30,000 troops), in higher suicide rates, broken families of soldiers, shorter military training and recuperation time, lower standards for recruitment, and more officers exiting the ranks.

Troop morale is difficult to maintain when rumors fly of tour lengths possibly being extended to 18 months after going from 12 to 15 months just this past spring. "The demand for our forces exceeds the sustainable supply," Casey admits.

Is this a case of the US conducting war on the cheap? Of Roman-style imperial overreach?

Or will the US gear up to deal with what Casey calls "a period of protracted confrontation among state, nonstate, and individual actors who will increasingly use violence as a means of achieving their political and ideological objectives"?

Just how the US gets through the surge into next year, and leaves Iraq with some stability, will be a telling indicator of whether the military can be transformed for a new era.

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