WASHINGTON (AP) – President Bush’s plan to enlarge the Army and Marine Corps responds to pleas from the Pentagon and Capitol Hill, but finding more recruits will be expensive and challenging and have little immediate impact on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In a news conference Wednesday, the president said he has asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates to look into adding more troops to the nearly 1.4 million uniformed personnel on active duty – a force which has been strained by the two wars.

Bush also said he remains undecided on whether to send more troops to Iraq and expects to announce that decision early next year.

Bush’s desire to expand the services – an abrupt turnaround – was cheered Wednesday by lawmakers and military analysts. They agreed, though, that boosting troop levels is costly and time-consuming and will do little to help in Iraq anytime soon.

“To get to the kind of levels both services want will be five to 10 years,” said Anthony Cordesman, a national security expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “And by then the Iraq war on one level or the other will be over.”

According to service officials, the Army wants to expand its force of 507,000 soldiers by 20,000 to 30,000, while the Marine Corps would like to add 5,000 to its nearly 180,000 troops.

The unpopular war in Iraq – where more than 2,950 American troops have already died – complicates the task of finding more recruits and retaining current troops.

To find new troops, the military will have to hire more recruiters and offer incentives like increased bonuses and higher salaries. In recent years, it has accepted more recruits with minor criminal records and with lower scores on aptitude tests.

Once the recruits are found, the military must train and equip them, which takes months. Other expenses will come from additional health care and support programs for families.

“It takes a long time to train trigger-pullers. And that’s what we need – more trigger-pullers,” said retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, former assistant vice chief of staff for the Army.

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, increasing the Army by 40,000 troops would cost $2.6 billion the first year and more than $4 billion annually to maintain.

The estimate is similar to one provided by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker, who says the service budget jumps $1.2 billion for every additional 10,000 soldiers. Schoomaker says the Army can add up to 7,000 troops per year.

There are about 6,700 recruiters trying to sign up 80,000 new active duty soldiers for the 2007 budget year, which began last October. Roughly 1,800 recruiters are working to sign up 35,000 for the Army Reserves for the same period, officials said.

To accomplish additional growth, the service will need to sweeten incentives. The Army failed to meet its recruiting goal in the 2005 budget year for the first time since 1999, but met its goal in 2006 after adding recruiters and incentives for new enlistees.

The Pentagon also will have to budget for the additional troops at a time of rising health care costs and an overall budget crunch caused in part by Iraq and Afghanistan, which cost $120 billion last year and are likely to get more expensive.

“If the president doesn’t put forward a plan to pay for this in his annual budget request then this announcement is meaningless,” said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., a member of the Armed Services Committee and longtime advocate of a bigger force.

So far, Congress has provided about $450 billion for the Pentagon for 2007. That includes $70 billion for the wars, but it excludes another $100 billion the military wants to request for additional war costs.

Last week, Schoomaker said the Army will break without more soldiers, but he had previously opposed congressional mandates to add more troops. He had argued the cost would overburden the Army’s budget. But retired Pentagon officials say it doesn’t have be an either-or situation if there is the political will to do it.

“You can certainly do it, but it takes time and it takes resources,” said Les Brownlee, former acting Army secretary.

One reason adding several thousand troops would make a difference in the massive military is the types of jobs they do.

Only a fraction of the Army and Marines available are the kind needed in Iraq – combat infantry troops that can conduct security patrols and staff checkpoints. Of the 140,000 now in Iraq, just over one-third are combat forces.

As a result, many people serve repeated tours there and heavily used units must scramble to replace or fix battle-damaged equipment.

Gates’ predecessor, Donald H. Rumsfeld, staunchly opposed increasing the size of the force because of the cost. Instead, Rumsfeld advocated reorganizing the Army into small, more flexible units that would rely less on manpower and more on technology.

Bush sided with Rumsfeld until his departure last week.

“It’s so frustrating to me we have to be four years into a war with the Marine Corps and Army on the verge of breaking that we decide we need more Army and Marines,” said retired Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, former commandant of the Army War College.


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