CBS's Authoritative Source on the Army's Lack of Readiness: John Murtha

On Wednesday's CBS Evening News, CBS News national security correspondent David Martin could have cited a letter (PDF of it) to President Bush from Congressman Ike Skelton, ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, about how "nearly every non-deployed combat brigade in the active Army is reporting that they are not ready to complete their assigned wartime mission." But instead, when asked by anchor Bob Schieffer about the “strain” on troops longer deployments in Iraq will cause, Martin cited the left-wing's favorite Democrat as his authoritative source: "Congressman Jack Murtha said today Iraq has drained the Army to the point now that the vast majority of combat brigades in the U.S. and Europe are rated at the lowest level of readiness."

Searching the Web tonight, the only article I could find quoting Murtha was a late afternoon Reuters dispatch, “House Democrats seek more Army funding,” centered on how “a group of Democrats in the House of Representatives on Wednesday called for at least $10 billion in additional funds to help the U.S. Army rebuild resources depleted by the Iraq war, now in its fourth year.” Reporter Richard Cowan quoted from Skelton's letter to Bush, only getting to Murtha in his sixth, seventh and eighth paragraphs, but he didn't recount the specific claim attributed to Murtha by Martin:
Rep. John Murtha, the pro-defense Pennsylvania Democrat who stunned Washington last year by calling for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq, said most Army units do not have adequate equipment and ammunition to train on before going to war. "Under-trained units have higher rates of casualties" once they enter combat, Murtha told reporters.

He said in order to patch the funding shortfall, some Army bases in the United States have stopped using ammunition in training and stopped cutting grass for the rest of the summer while also suspending custodial services, except for cleaning restrooms.

At the Red River Army depot in Texas, Murtha said there was no money to repair 2,500 Humvees, trucks and other vehicles used in training.

The Schieffer-Martin exchange on the July 26 CBS Evening News:
Bob Schieffer: “Iraq's Prime Minister addressed a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress today, but some members stayed away to protest criticism that he had leveled at Israel. He urged the lawmakers to support Iraq as a front line in the global war on terror, but the speech was interrupted at one point by an anti-war heckler in the gallery . Later, he and President Bush flew to an Army base in Virginia and had lunch with the troops there.

“The Prime Minister's plan to use Iraqi troops to restore some semblance of order in Baghdad has failed, so the President said yesterday more American troops will be moved there. We want to talk about that now with David Martin who is at the Pentagon. David, I'm not clear on where these troops are coming from.”

Martin, at the Pentagon: “Well, Bob, the Bush administration is claiming they can put an additional three to four thousand American troops into Baghdad simply by pulling them out from other places in Iraq. But what's actually happening is that 3,700 soldiers due to come home have been told they'll probably be extended past their one-year tour of duty which they've been promised. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld hasn't approved that yet, but the troops who will relieve them are already in Iraq, so if one unit comes in and the other doesn't leave, that's an increase.”

Schieffer: “Well, isn't that going to put a strain on these people, these troops?”

Martin: “Well, Congressman Jack Murtha said today Iraq has drained the Army to the point now that the vast majority of combat brigades in the U.S. and Europe are rated at the lowest level of readiness. Bob.”
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center