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New Army chief spent years as Iraq commander

WASHINGTON—Amid growing worries at home about a "broken Army" and signs in Baghdad that the insurgents are intensifying their attacks on U.S. troops, the Army installed its new leader today, former Iraq commander Gen. George Casey.

Casey, the Army's 36th chief of staff, will be the lead administrator of the military's largest branch, managing everything from recruiting to training to supporting the force at war. He replaces Gen. Peter Schoomaker, who came out of retirement in August 2003 to take the post.

Some military analysts and soldiers question whether Casey, who led what some congressional leaders deem a failed approach in Iraq, can now manage an army strained by that war.

As the Iraq war enters its fifth year and U.S. troops surge into Baghdad, the term "broken Army" has become part of the national debate.

Army units are being called back to duty less than a year following deployment. It used to be a two-year gap. In addition, some units are returning with less training than once required. Getting the proper equipment to troops returning to Iraq also has been challenging, particularly as the time between deployments gets shorter.

This week, the Defense Department announced that 13,000 National Guardsmen would be deployed in Iraq, marking the first time that reserve officers have done second tours there. Indeed, several active-duty Army brigades are returning to Iraq for the third time—a strain on them, their families and the military's retention rate.

How Casey applies his 30-month tenure in Iraq toward his job in Washington remains unclear. He'll have a firsthand understanding of how his decisions will affect those in combat. But he also may be affected by some people's belief that he comes to the job scarred.

"He certainly isn't coming in with the `I won the war' strategy," said Jeffrey White, a military analyst for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "He's stuck in a lot of ways."

His successor in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, has adopted new tactics that center on counterinsurgency and retaking control of communities overrun by violence. He has called for an increase of U.S. troops to reclaim Baghdad, a marked change from Casey, who called for turning over communities to Iraqi security forces as soon as possible and diminishing the U.S. role.

During his Senate confirmation hearing, Casey said he didn't believe the Army was broken, recollecting what the Army looked like when he first joined 36 years ago—toward the end of the Vietnam War.

"I saw a broken Army. The first platoon I walked into as a lieutenant in my first assignment in Germany had nine people in it," Casey said during his Feb. 1 hearing. "And four of those people were pending discharge. We didn't have money to train. We didn't have money to fix our vehicles. . . . t was broken badly. . . . But from what I see in Iraq, senator, the Army is far from broken."

But he acknowledged the strain on the military, particularly the reserves.

"We have to be smarter about how we treat them and how we use them, so that when we do have to call them up, we have maximum time on mission and minimum time on preparation, so there is less time away from their families," Casey said.

Casey will travel to the Army's largest bases in the next few weeks to meet with commanders and hospital officials, said Lt. Col. Gary Kolb, a spokesman for the Army chief of staff.

Meanwhile in Iraq, U.S. and Iraqi forces battled insurgents in a Sunni stronghold in central Baghdad, with witnesses saying that a U.S. aircraft was fired on. Coalition forces used ground and air attacks to regain control of the neighborhood, and a damaged helicopter returned safely to its base, according to a military statement.

In addition, a female suicide bomber wearing a bomb underneath her black robe detonated herself at a police recruiting station north of Baghdad, killing at least 16 Iraqis and wounding 100.


(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


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