WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Army, strained by unrelenting violence in Iraq and operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere, is considering ways it can speed up the creation of two combat brigades while shifting personnel and equipment from other military units.
Under the plan being developed, the new brigades could be formed next year and be ready to be sent to Iraq in 2008, defense officials told The Associated Press. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the plans were not final.
The Army's chief of staff, Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, told a commission Thursday that he wants to increase the half-million-member force beyond the 30,000 troops authorized in recent years. And he warned that the Army ``will break'' without thousands more active duty troops and greater use of the reserves.
Though Schoomaker didn't give an exact number, he said it would take significant time, saying 6,000 to 7,000 soldiers could be added per year. Schoomaker has said it costs roughly $1.2 billion to increase the Army by 10,000 soldiers.
Officials also need greater authority to tap into the National Guard and Reserve, long ago set up as a strategic reserve but now needed as an integral part of the nation's deployed forces, Schoomaker told a commission studying possible changes in those two forces.
``Over the last five years, the sustained strategic demand ... is placing a strain on the Army's all-volunteer force,'' Schoomaker said during a Capitol Hill hearing. ``At this pace ... we will break the active component'' unless reserves can be called up more to help, he said.
Accelerating the creation of two combat brigades would give the Army greater flexibility to allow units to return home for at least a year before having to go back to the battlefront. Brigades average 3,500 troops.
Since 2003, the Army has been restructuring in order to increase the number of brigades in each combat division from three to four. The purpose is to increase the pool of brigades available for troop rotations into Iraq and Afghanistan and to make each brigade more self-sustaining.
White House spokesman Tony Snow declined to characterize President Bush's response to Schoomaker's comments, but he said Bush ``takes seriously any of the requests from the service branch chiefs.''
Schoomaker's testimony and the new Army plans came as Bush continues his assessment of the Iraq war. Bush held three days of urgent meetings with top generals and other advisers. Federal agencies have presented their options to Bush and the White House National Security Council and are providing additional details and answering questions.
The military options being considered include a short-term surge in troops to stem the violence and an increased effort to train and equip Iraqi forces.
Speaking to reporters after the hearing, Schoomaker acknowledged that Gen. George Casey, the top commander in Iraq, is looking at several military options, including shifting many troops from combat missions to training Iraqi units.
The Army in recent days has been looking at how many additional troops could be sent to Iraq if the president decides a surge in forces would be helpful. But, Army officials say, only about 10,000 to 15,000 troops could be sent and an end to the war would have to be in sight because it would drain the pool of available soldiers for combat.
``We would not surge without a purpose,'' Schoomaker told reporters. ``And that purpose should be measurable.''
A number of administration officials have suggested privately that _ while Bush has considered the possibility of a short-term troop increase _ there is no consensus from the military on the wisdom of injecting a large number of additional troops.
Another option under discussion is increasing the number of U.S. troops who are placed inside Iraqi army and police units as advisers, boosting the training of the Iraqi forces so they can more quickly take control of their own security.