By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (March 08, 2012) -- While the Army has a new emphasis on the Asia and Pacific region, it doesn't mean the service will be unable to meet obligations in the Middle East -- if need be, said the Army's chief of staff.
Earlier this year, Gen. Ray Odierno said the Army will put an increased emphasis on the Asia and Pacific region and a renewed emphasis on its partnerships there with allies, including a "trilateral" partnership between the United States, Korea and Japan.
But that renewed emphasis doesn't mean the Army will abandon its roles elsewhere, he said.
"I don't see us necessarily rebalancing from the Middle East to Asia/Pacific," Odierno told lawmakers, March 8, during a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. "Based on the priorities we've established, Asia/Pacific is first, closely followed behind by the Middle East. But I don't think that is causing us to have less attention and capability available to use in the Middle East."
The general said in other parts of the world the Army may be diminishing its "potential to influence" -- but that's not true in the Middle East.
"I have confidence that we will be able to do what we need to do if necessary, in the Middle East, even though we have now provided some focus in the Pacific region," he said.
The Army recently pulled out of Iraq -- today, there are about 150 Soldiers in country there, who now work in support of the Department of State. But al-Qaeda continues to be active there, though Odierno said he has confidence the Iraqi security forces, originally trained by Americans, can defend themselves.
"There are reports that there has been some increase, especially in Anbar providence, of al-Queda, and also in Baghdad," Odierno said. "I am still confident that Iraqi security forces can handle the violence. The issue becomes that we need the people of Iraq to continue to reject al-Queda and not allow them to get back in and form groups."
The general also said that unrest, in places like Syria, could be exploited by al-Qaeda.
But in the Middle East, the Army still has Soldiers who can react in Iraq, if called on to do so, Odierno told lawmakers.
"We have a brigade combat team that came out of Iraq and is now inside of Kuwait, we have some aviation elements that are also inside of Kuwait," he said. "We have people in Kuwait that also support Afghanistan. The current number is somewhere between 12,000 and 15,000. It will come down over time, probably to something less than 10,000 in Kuwait."
Those Soldiers, he said allow the Army to "react with ground forces if necessary, if it was in our best national interest."
As part of budget cuts, the withdrawal from Iraq and the coming drawdown from Afghanistan -- the Army will cut about 80,000 Soldiers from the active force end strength. The service will go from about 570,000 to 490,000. The drawdown will last about six years, Odierno said, and will begin this year.
"We have developed this ramp, which we believe can be accomplished mostly through attrition," Odierno said. "And with the rate that we're reducing the ramp, we believe that we can continue to meet our commitments in Afghanistan and our other deployable commitments with rotational forces."
Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh told lawmakers that nearly half of the Army budget goes to personnel. He told lawmakers that making cuts to the Army budget means balancing personnel needs against other needs, "the modernization, the equipping, the family programs, the things that, if you don't support them, you're on a quick path to a hollow Army."
McHugh said the Army will try to make the cuts as "humanly as possible."
"We're working as hard as we can to try to manage both our discharges and our accessions in a way so that we don't have to have forced outs," McHugh said. "They're not something anyone likes to go through, but the reality is, at the end of the day, we're probably going to have to ask some Soldiers who have served honorably and who meet at least minimum criteria, to perhaps think about a next challenge in their lives."