WASHINGTON -- The war in the Persian Gulf demonstrated that the Army should abandon its reliance on National Guard and Army Reserve troops as rapid-deployment combat troops and leave that job solely to active-duty soldiers, Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney says.
Cheney also predicted the United States will forge stronger military links to Mideast nations, including the establishment of a long-sought headquarters for the U.S. Central Command in the region.
The U.S. secretary of defense -- a key player in shaping the Bush administration's Mideast policy -- said yesterday that at least a heavy division's worth of U.S. equipment is likely to remain in storage in Saudi Arabia after U.S. ground troops leave. Some countries in the region, he said, may build facilities "to accommodate U.S. forces even though there wouldn't be any U.S. [ground] forces there."
He also said that the experience in the gulf had not changed his mind about plans for cutting back defense expenditures.
Converting the reserve combat brigades to second-tier status would mark a significant step away from a post-Vietnam concept designed to ensure that citizen-soldiers would play an integral role in any major U.S. conflict.
In late November and December, the Bush administration called some 14,000 combat Guard and Reserve troops to active duty. But military officials encountered serious readiness problems among the forces, and never deployed them to the Persian Gulf.
Cheney said that the state of the "weekend warrior" forces convinced him and others that the concept of mixing a brigade of combat reserves with active duty combat forces is "not a good one."
The so-called "Total Force Concept" in three cases mixes a brigade of guard and reserve combat troops with two brigades of active combat forces to create a full division. Cheney called the concept a success in instances in which Guard and Reserve units were deployed in support of combat operations by active forces. But integration did not appear to work when officials contemplated sending guardsmen and reservists to fight alongside active-duty combat troops.
"One of the lessons we'll learn out of this," Cheney said, is that in the future, the Army's rapid-deployment divisions should be comprised entirely of active-duty forces. The Guard and Reserve combat forces, he said, should be consolidated into whole divisions for use later in a conflict.
"We ought to use the Guard combat units as a second or third echelon that you call up and deploy over a longer period of time," said Cheney. "The planning would take into account not that they deploy the first day of the war, but rather that they get 90 days, 120 days of work-up before you send them."