U.S. military stretched dangerously thin by war: poll

WASHINGTON Tue Feb 19, 2008 5:34pm EST

U.S. soldiers patrol at their new outpost, Carver, that is being built in Salman Pak, south of Baghdad, February 16, 2008. The U.S. military has been stretched dangerously thin by the Iraq war, according to almost 90 percent of retired and current military officers polled on the state of America's armed forces. REUTERS/Mahmoud Raouf Mahmoud

U.S. soldiers patrol at their new outpost, Carver, that is being built in Salman Pak, south of Baghdad, February 16, 2008. The U.S. military has been stretched dangerously thin by the Iraq war, according to almost 90 percent of retired and current military officers polled on the state of America's armed forces.

Credit: Reuters/Mahmoud Raouf Mahmoud

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military has been stretched dangerously thin by the Iraq war, according to almost 90 percent of retired and current military officers polled on the state of America's armed forces.

Eighty percent said it would be unreasonable to expect the U.S. military to wage another major war successfully at this time, according to the poll by the Center for a New American Security think tank and Foreign Policy magazine.

More than 3,400 serving and retired officers took part in the poll, organizers said. Around 90 percent were retired officers, a large majority had combat experience and about 10 percent had served in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The findings reflect concerns expressed publicly, although usually in less stark terms, by top U.S. military officers, who say frequent long deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan have put great stress on both troops and equipment.

"We are putting more strains on the all-volunteer force than it was ever designed to bear," Army Lt. Col. John Nagl, a prominent counterinsurgency expert, said at a panel discussion in Washington on Tuesday to announce the results of the survey.

Eighty-eight percent of respondents said the U.S. military had been stretched dangerously thin by Iraq. Sixty percent said the military was weaker than five years ago, 25 percent said it was stronger and 15 percent said it was about the same.

But 56 percent of the officers still said the military had not been broken by the war and 64 percent judged morale to be "somewhat high" or "very high."

The survey also showed sharp disagreements over the use of harsh interrogation techniques by the United States. Fifty-three percent of officers said torture was never acceptable but 44 percent disagreed.

About 46 percent said waterboarding was torture while 43 percent disagreed. Critics worldwide condemn waterboarding, a form of simulated drowning, as torture but the Bush administration does not define it as such.

(Reporting by Andrew Gray, editing by Chris Wilson)