Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., listens as Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., makes a point during a news conference Wednesday at the Capitol.

Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., listens as Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., makes a point during a news conference Wednesday at the Capitol. (Joe Gromelski / S&S)

WASHINGTON — Army officials angrily defended the capability and competence of the service Thursday in response to criticism from a pair of House Democrats who said the fighting force’s readiness is dangerously low.

Outspoken war critic Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., and Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., on Wednesday again called for the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for what they said was his failure to keep the military properly staffed and equipped.

They also released a 12-page report compiled from their staff’s examination of Army reports and congressional information requests, which said funding shortfalls and poor planning have led to “the very real prospect that Army readiness will continue to erode, undermining its ability to meet the theater commanders’ needs …”

But Army officials called the detailed report inaccurate and the conclusion of the congressmen off-base.

“Today’s Army is the highest quality Army this Nation has ever produced — it has not ‘gone south,’” according to a statement released in response to the report. “To imply otherwise is an insult to the young men and women who have volunteered to protect our nation’s freedoms.”

Murtha’s military readiness report describes the Army as “dangerously at risk” and points to equipment and personnel shortfalls as the main reasons. It notes that Army combat units preparing for the next rotations for Iraq and Afghanistan likely will not see a full year of rest and retraining between deployments.

Shortfalls in the number of guardsmen who are ready to fight have aggravated the problem — the report said 80 percent of non-deployed Guard units not already mobilized have received the lowest readiness rating — and equipment shortfalls have left many active-duty units without vehicles and communication devices they need for preparation.

“Many Army officials conclude that current deployment rates cannot be sustained without breaking the force,” the report states.

Paul Boyce, spokesman for the Army, said officials are preparing a point-by-point response to the report but could not provide specific details on the readiness issues brought up by the congressmen.

In their statement, Army officials said they have been working to replace equipment before problematic shortages arise, and they note that every active-duty unit features “better trained and prepared soldiers than we’ve ever put in the field.”

They also outright dismiss many of the congressmen’s claims. The report says the Army may fall 1,000 soldiers short of its recruiting goal this year, but the Army says it expects to reach its 80,000 target for the fiscal year by next week.

And officials said the Congressmen overhyped increases regarding the number of category IV recruits — those with the lowest acceptable score on the Armed Forces Qualification Test — noting that they still represent under four percent of the total number of new recruits, which follows previously established military limits.

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