WASHINGTON -- Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld yesterday disputed reports suggesting that the US military is stretched thin and close to a snapping point from operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, asserting ''the force is not broken."
''This armed force is enormously capable," Rumsfeld told reporters at a Pentagon briefing. ''In addition, it's battle-hardened. It's not a peacetime force that has been in barracks or garrisons."
Rumsfeld spoke a day after the Associated Press reported that an unreleased study conducted for the Pentagon said the Army is being overextended, because of the two wars, and may not be able to retain and recruit enough troops to defeat the insurgency in Iraq.
Congressional Democrats released a report yesterday that also concluded the US military is under severe stress.
Reports suggesting that the US military is close to the breaking point are ''just not consistent with the facts," Rumsfeld said.
He said a number of components of the armed forces were underfunded during the 1990s, ''and there were hollow pieces to it. Today, that's just not the case."
Rumsfeld said there were more than 1.4 million active US troops, and about 2 million -- counting National Guard and Reserve units -- of which only 138,000 people were in Iraq.
''Do we still need more rebalancing? You bet," Rumsfeld said.
The secretary suggested that he was not familiar with reports citing an overburdened military. But, he said, ''It's clear that those comments . . . are either out of date or just misdirected."
Former secretary of state Madeleine Albright and former secretary of defense William Perry, both members of the Clinton administration, were credited among the authors of the study that congressional Democrats released. It said US ground forces are under ''enormous strain," adding, ''This strain, if not soon relieved, will have highly corrosive and potentially long-term effects on the force."
In the earlier report obtained by the AP, Andrew Krepinevich, a retired Army officer who wrote it under Pentagon contract, concluded that the Army cannot sustain the pace of troop deployments to Iraq long enough to break the back of the insurgency. As evidence, he cited the Army's recruiting slump in 2005 and its decision to offer much bigger enlistment bonuses and other incentives.