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Washington (AFP) – The Pentagon plans to scale back the U.S. Army to its lowest level since before World War II in a proposed budget reflecting the end of 13 years of war in Afghanistan.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Monday recommended shrinking the army from 520,000 active duty troops to 440,000-450,000, saying that “after Iraq and Afghanistan, we are no longer sizing the military to conduct long and large stability operations.”

If approved by Congress, the move would reduce the army to its lowest levels since 1940, before the American military dramatically expanded after entering World War II.

The proposed 13 percent reduction in the army would be carried out by 2017, a senior defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP.

The move comes amid growing fiscal pressures and after years of protracted counter-insurgency campaigns, which saw the Army reach a peak of more than 566,000 troops in 2010.

US troops have already withdrawn from Iraq and President Barack Obama has promised to end America’s combat role in Afghanistan by the end of this year.

The Pentagon had previously planned to downsize the ground force to about 490,000.

But Hagel warned that to adapt to future threats “the Army must accelerate the pace and increase the scale of its post-war drawdown.”

He said the changes “would result in a smaller army, but would help ensure the army remains well-trained and clearly superior in arms and equipment.”

Hagel also said the army national guard and reserves would be cut by five percent.

The smaller force would entail some “added risk” but it would still be able to defeat an adversary in one region while also “supporting” air and naval operations in another, he said.

His comments confirmed the Pentagon has abandoned the idea of ensuring the army could fight two major wars at the same time.

The proposed budget also calls for scrapping the Air Force’s entire fleet of A-10 “Warthog” aircraft and retiring the storied U-2 spy plane.

Instead, commanders have opted to invest more in the new F-35 fighter and the unmanned Global Hawk surveillance drone.

Hagel also called for slowing growth in pay and benefits, which make up nearly half the Pentagon’s budget.

Military spending doubled after the attacks of September 11, 2001 but has started to decline as lawmakers push to slash the government’s budget and debt.

Under a bipartisan accord adopted in December, the Defense Department will have a $496 billion budget for fiscal year 2015.

But the Pentagon has a “wish list” of $26 billion that would fund new weapons and bolster training programs.

Hagel warned that if automatic budget cuts resume in two years, the effects would be devastating and force more drastic reductions in manpower and equipment.

The full U.S. federal budget will be presented officially on March 4.

Photo: Secretary of Defense via Flickr

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Eric Holder

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts, and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

“There are several areas… where I think there could be bipartisan consensus,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, in a briefing on January 20. “These areas are all around those guardrails of democracy. They are all about ensuring that however the voters speak that their voice is heard… and cannot be subverted by anyone in the post-election process.”

Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

The reason the centrist recommendations won’t satisfy civil rights advocates is that many of the most troubling developments since the 2020 election would likely remain.

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