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U.S. Military Stretched Too Thin?

Aired July 21, 2003 - 20:25   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: The war for peace in Iraq has claimed the life of yet another American soldier. This time, troops were ambushed in northeast Baghdad.
As senior international correspondent Nic Robertson reports, the scenario has become all too familiar.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Inch by inch, the aftermath of the latest guerrilla-style attack on U.S. forces is cleared off the scorched tarmac, the carcass of a Humvee lifted towards a waiting truck.

LT. COL. JOHN KEN, U.S. ARMY: There was two people killed and three injured. The injuries, one American soldier was killed and one Iraqi was killed.

ROBERTSON: Thirty dollars, the cost of renting the truck, to get rid of the wreckage from this Baghdad highway.

(on camera): Although the precise details of this attack are not yet clear, it appears to have been very similar to previous attacks, a remote-controlled explosive device set off by people waiting for the U.S. troops to pass by.

(voice-over): Security still tight, no attackers spotted when the troops arrived, but praise for Iraqis who witnessed the explosion.

KEN: They immediately went to the vehicle. And they cut out the -- the seat belts were stuck, and they cut two soldiers out of the seat belts. And with the subsequent fire, they may have saved their lives.

ROBERTSON: Fearful of retribution by the attackers, the father and son declined to describe on camera how they saved U.S. lives. Even Iraqi police, who rushed to help, now distance themselves.

LT. SHAKER ABID AL AMEER, IRAQI POLICE (through translator): I have nothing to do with the American forces. My interest is my countrymen. I am here to protect them from the Americans and Israelis.

ROBERTSON: The recovery complete, troops pull out, and looters move in, Scavenging the charred remains of the Humvee. "This is a new line of business," he says. "We need something good for Iraq, for our future. We need the killings and explosions to be over and done."

Slim pickings for these entrepreneurs of misfortune.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON: I have talked to the young translator who was working with the U.S. troops involved in a tidy-up. He told me that he wanted to continue his work, he wouldn't be put off by this. But when I asked him what do his friends think about his work with the U.S. troops, he said they were divided pretty much 50/50. And he was a university student here, Paula.

ZAHN: Now, Nic, there has been a lot of discussion about the morale of U.S. troops still on duty in Iraq, particularly the 3rd Infantry Division. How is that playing out now?

ROBERTSON: I talked to an officer from the 3rd Infantry Division just a couple of days ago. He said even he was disappointed when he got the news their departure to go home was going to be delayed. He said he gave his soldiers 24 hours to get used to the idea. Then they wanted them back out again with their chins up.

He said the reason for that, he had seen, since the media reports, and in Iraqi newspapers as well, reports that the morale was down with the troops, he said, since those reports have been in local newspapers, they had seen an increase in attacks. And he warned his troops that this was an indication that some people were going to attack, when they thought their morale was down and low. And that was the reason for them to come out with their chins up. And that's what he said his troops were doing, Paula.

ZAHN: Nic Robertson, thanks for the update. Appreciate it.

For the United States, being the world's only superpower sometimes means American forces have to be the world's policeman and women. A quick glance at a map of major troop deployments shows U.S. forces stretched from Europe across the Middle East to Asia. Africa may be next. Many experts are wondering if the U.S. military is stretched too thin.

New York Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel says there is a way to fix that: Bring back the draft. He joins us from Washington tonight. Also in Washington on Capitol Hill is California Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

Thank you, gentlemen, for being with us tonight.

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), CALIFORNIA: Good to be with you.

REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: It's good to be here.

ZAHN: Representative Hunter, I am going to start with you first. Do we have enough troops to fulfill the role of the world's policemen?

HUNTER: I'd like to see another two divisions, Paula.

We had, in 1991, at the time of first Gulf War, 18 Army divisions. Through the 1990s, we cut that almost in half. When Bill Clinton left office, we had 10 divisions left, so roughly half the Army that we had at the beginning of the decade. This is a very dangerous world. I think it's very clear. And while we have enormous firepower, the coverage aspect, that is, having to maintain people in various areas, has brought us to the point where of our 33 divis -- or brigades in the U.S. Army, some 19 of them are committed at this point. So I'd like to see another two divisions and I would like to see also, another two fighter air wings.

ZAHN: Representative Rangel, what are the implications of not getting those two divisions, your colleague was just talking about? What would it mean if you don't get that approved?

RANGEL: I will get right back to that but I can't help not but to respond to the morale of our troops in Iraq.

ZAHN: Can you come back that to that in a moment and try to react directly to what Representative Hunter was going to say.

RANGEL: Sure. OK. It's no question that we did need more troops.

One, I think, we should rely on international organization of the United Nations, and work more closely with them. And, two if we're going to say that it's shared sacrifice and America is going to go to war, we have to think about a more equitable way to do it. If just take a look at those that are making the ultimate sacrifice and being wounded, you would see they come from poor communities, minority communities, and as we see a expanded obligation of the United States of America, it should be more representative of America, and I think by doing this, we would make more -- more equitable decision as to when we go to war.

ZAHN: Representative Hunter, do you acknowledge that that unfair burden exists?

HUNTER: Well, Paula, I don't. My dad volunteered for World War II, I volunteered for Vietnam, and my son just volunteered for Iraq and went to Iraq. So you've got lots of Americans in all parts of society who show up at these things. And so -- and you know, they made a couple of surveys after my good friend Charlie Rangel talked about this early on. And they found out that really the divisions between -- between racism and between groups, was pretty evenly spread, and that you have Americans coming from all walks of life.

Certainly I would like to see more folks who go to the Ivy League schools in the East take the type of -- take on the kind of responsibility they used to in the old days in the early part of the century. But we've got lots of Americans who come to these things. And if you're going to cut the army down, to about half of what it was 15 years ago, you have a very small force. The time when you need a draft is when you mobilize massively and you add -- you add millions of people to our military forces. Right now, we have shrunk the military and you'd actually have to get rid of folks who volunteered right now to make way for a draft.

ZAHN: Representative Rangel, is that what you are asking for now? To reinstitute a draft now or not?

RANGEL: No, the truth of the matter is, Duncan's a real expert in military affairs, but I think the record's abundantly clear. If you see who has been killed in combat, you would see they're poor whites, they're Hispanics and blacks. And if you take a look at our reservists and our national guard, you would see that they come from the lower economic stratum of our society and there's just no question that members of Congress, kids, and kids of professionals, your kid and my kid, would be the exception. They most volunteered. You volunteered and I volunteered.

But take my word for it, the statistics are abundantly clear, that if the incentives of getting in -- and this is what Rumsfeld (ph) has to do is provide for money and education, those are the incentives. Certainly it's not patriotism, and enlistments and re- enlistments are down. So the record speaks for itself.

ZAHN: And that brings us back to, Representative Hunter, a subject that Mr. Rangel wanted to talk about and that's the subject of morale. Given the kind of resources that you have lobbied for, do you really think that that in and of itself would be enough to ameliorate some of those very bad and raw feelings that some of our soldiers are feeling today?

HUNTER: Well, first, Paula, G.I.s are going to complain and put them over there with 120-degree heat, they were undertaking combat operations and generally like -- the G.I.s like to go into the field. They like to operate, believe it or not, where they think they are making a difference in combat operations. You pull them back to a garrison operation where a lot of them are in a static position, they're out there in that heat -- and let me tell you, they're going to complain. On the other hand, if we use that as a barometer -- and I used to complain as a G.I myself -- if you're going to use that as a barometer for whether we move forward with respect to our foreign policy in Iraq, I think we've got the wrong barometer.

I think most of them, they understand it's tough. It's difficult. And you feel like swearing at your NCOs and at your officers and the officers themselves feel like swearing at the folks in Washington to put the policy together. But generally speaking, when those people come back from Iraq, I think most of them feel they've accomplished something for this country.

ZAHN: Congressman Rangel, you get the last word, and you got about 15 seconds to get back to that subject that took me a couple minutes back to the issue of troop morale.

RANGEL: That's a new twist that the G.I.s are just fighting to be fighting. No. Really what happens is that when you're told you're going home, when you're in combat, each day is a day that you live and when you live -- when you have to stay beyond the day that you thought that you were going to rotate, that's enough to make morale go down and it's a terrible thing to build one's hope up, that they have to be out of combat and find out that each day they are scared to death they are going to get killed.

ZAHN: Representative Rangel and Representative Hunter, thank you for both of your perspectives this evening.

HUNTER: Good to be with you.

ZAHN: Glad you got to spend a little time with us this evening.

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