WASHINGTON — If sequestration continues, the Army might not be ready by next year to respond to contingencies such as the Syrian conflict, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said Tuesday.
Although Army readiness is suffering because of billions of dollars in defense cuts this year, Odierno said the service still could put boots on the ground in Syria if called upon to do so.
But that might not be the case for long if Congressional deadlock over how to reduce the federal deficit persists, and sequestration is repeated in 2014, he said.
“Readiness is OK right now, but it’s degrading significantly because our training is reducing,” he said. “So the next three to four months, we’d probably have the capability to do it. Next year it probably becomes a little more risky because our readiness is lower.”
Odierno said the Free Syrian Army is gaining ground against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The rebels will eventually bring down the regime, Odierno predicted.
“I kind of believe it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” he told reporters at a media breakfast in Washington.
But whether U.S. soldiers would have the training needed to intervene in the potentially chaotic aftermath is in question.
“We’ll have the troops to go, but the increased risk goes up,” he said. “And what is the risk? The risk is lives.”
Because of sequestration, 80 percent of the Army is currently limited to training exercises at the squad level, while six brigade training rotations so far have been canceled, Odierno said.
While such news may be chilling to soldiers, Odierno said he realizes it means little to the average U.S. citizen. In a recent talk with a federal legislator, he said, “They told me, ‘I haven’t gotten a single call from a constituent about defense.’ ”
With public pressure to avert sequestration lacking, Odierno seemed pessimistic about the possibility of solving the Army’s budget woes.
“We’re preparing for the worst,” he said.