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WASHINGTON — A group of Democrats and retired Army generals on Wednesday urged Congress to increase the Army’s end strength by about 80,000 soldiers over the next four years, calling the current troops levels “a crisis.”

“The men and women in today’s Army are as good as any who have ever worn the uniform,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn. “The crisis is there are simply not enough of them.”

Legislation introduced by the group would lift the Army’s end strength cap to 582,000, adding 20,000 a year and leveling off in 2009. The Army’s current authorized end strength is 502,400, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Congress has authorized another 10,000 soldiers in 2006, and Republicans in the House Armed Services Committee have a target of about 532,000 by 2009, according to committee spokesman Josh Holly. He questioned the need for 50,000 more than that.

“Our main goal is increasing the end strength to what’s needed,” he said. “We’re confident in our numbers.”

But Democrats said the higher number of soldiers is needed to ensure the Army has enough forces to maintain high training levels, keep deployment times short, and rapidly surge for future conflicts.

Retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Scales Jr., who served as commandant of the United States Army War College, said if the country’s commitment to the war on terror is permanent, then the troop level increases should be, too.

“You can break an Army in a few years; it takes decades to build it back up,” he said.

Similar legislation has been introduced by Democrats each of the last three years. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., said over that time the strain on Army forces has pushed them “to the breaking point.”

On Wednesday, Lieberman argued that increasing the total force size could help with Army recruiting, which has sagged for much of the year. More troops means shorter deployments, he said, which makes joining the Army a more attractive offer.

In the past, Army officials have estimated adding 10,000 more troops will cost the Defense Department an additional $1.2 billion in salary, training, and other related costs.

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