WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration's nominee to be the Army's top civilian official said Thursday he is worried about plans to reduce the Army's size to about 450,000 active-duty troops.
Eric Fanning told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday that improving the Army's state of readiness is challenging because of the threat posed by Islamic State militants and other demands.
"I do worry about the size of the Army today," Fanning told the committee.
If confirmed by the Senate, Fanning would be the first openly gay leader of a U.S. military service.
The committee met to consider Fanning's nomination to be Army secretary shortly after he stepped down from the job in an acting capacity. Committee members had expressed concern a federal law governing requirements for filling openings that require Senate confirmation would be violated if Fanning continued as acting secretary. Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Fanning's resignation "cured" the problem.
McCain, a frequent critic of the Obama administration's national security policies, said the decision to cut the Army from a wartime peak of 570,000 soldiers was "budget-driven" and made before the growth of the Islamic State militant group or Russia's invasion of Ukraine. If mandated budget cuts, known as sequestration, aren't reversed, "the Army will shrink to 420,000 troops, increasing the risk that in a crisis, we will have too few soldiers who could enter a fight without proper training or equipment," McCain said.
Fanning didn't dispute McCain's assessment.
The Army has a plan to improve readiness, Fanning said, but there are hurdles to overcome. "The demand on the force, the size that it is, makes it difficult to keep it trained," he said.
When top Defense Department officials directed the Army two years ago to go down to 450,000 troops, it was understood those cuts would come with risk. But the risk has only increased, Fanning told the committee.
"So I am concerned," he said. "It's preventing us from doing the other things we want to do in the Army to keep it readier and to keep it whole."
Fanning said it is too early to tell if the United States is winning the fight against IS.
"We clearly are putting a lot of pressure on ISIS, but they are also showing they can put pressure on us," he said. "They are not contained."
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