By Paul Basken and Nadine Elsibai
Dec. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said the U.S. Army is ``about broken'' and he cast doubt on whether the military could or should sustain boosting the number of troops in Iraq to speed up training of local forces and help suppress sectarian fighting.
The Army and the Marine Corps don't have enough personnel to maintain an increase in force in Iraq, a step that some policy makers advocate, Powell said on CBS's ``Face the Nation'' program.
``There really are no additional troops'' to send, said Powell, 69, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Gulf War and served as the nation's chief foreign policy official during President George W. Bush's first term. ``The current active Army is not large enough and the Marine Corps is not large enough for the kinds of missions they are being asked to perform.''
The U.S. is at a crossroads in Iraq as Bush reviews assessments from outside experts and administration advisers in preparation for announcing his next steps in Iraq after the first of the year.
Among the options the president is considering is sending 15,000 to 30,000 more troops to Iraq temporarily, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post reported last week, citing unidentified administration officials. Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona has been the leading congressional advocate for such an increase, saying the U.S. never committed enough troops to the war to accomplish the mission.
``We have tried this surge of troops over the summer'' and it didn't work, Powell said, referring to an operation in which the U.S. shifted more troops into Baghdad to help local forces break a cycle of attacks and reprisals between Sunni and Shiite Muslim factions.
Additions to the 140,000 military personnel now in Iraq would be created by extending duty tours for some soldiers and Marines already there or accelerating the arrival of forces scheduled to go, he said.
``All of my contacts within the Army suggest that the Army has a serious problem in the active force, and it's a problem that will spread into the Guard and Reserves,'' Powell said.
Any proposal to add forces should be made with a ``clear'' mission outlined and a definite schedule for how long they will be there, Powell said. The U.S. military can't quell the sectarian violence in the country, a task that must be accomplished by the Iraqis, he said.
Powell said he agreed with the assessment of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which said in its report released Dec. 5 that the situation in Iraq is ``grave and deteriorating.'' The independent commission said the U.S. should set a goal of pulling back most combat troops by early 2008 and focus on training Iraqi police and military forces.
Two senior Senate Democrats indicated their party is divided on the idea of temporarily dispatching more U.S. troops.
Nevada Senator Harry Reid, who will be majority leader starting next month, said on ABC's ``This Week'' program he would support a surge of American forces for two or three months as part of a larger plan to withdraw combat troops by 2008. Senator Edward Kennedy, a Democrat of Massachusetts, said in a separate interview on ``Fox News Sunday'' that such a proposal would be rejected in Congress and at the Defense Department.
``If the commanders on the ground said this is just for a short period of time, we'll go along with that,'' Reid said. Kennedy said ``there is going to be opposition to that'' among members of the Senate Armed Services Committee and military leaders at the Pentagon.
Democrats won control of Congress in last month's midterm elections in part because of public dissatisfaction with Bush's handling of the war. More than half of Americans want to set a schedule to withdraw all troops, a Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll found. By 62 percent to 35 percent, Americans disapprove of Bush's handling of the war, the Dec. 8-11 survey found.