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Depleted troops told to multi-task

The new commander in charge of training and providing US Army soldiers for wars says troops heading to Afghanistan will be spread thinner and learn to perform a wider range of missions.

General David Rodriguez, who took over as head of US Army Forces Command on Monday, says that as troops withdraw from Afghanistan, one brigade may have to take over where two have been working and must be trained to co-ordinate and use the high-tech surveillance, communications, and command and control systems that are flooding into the war zone.

Gen Rodriguez says the Army cannot afford to tailor forces for specific types of combat so they will have to be trained to adapt to any enemy, anywhere.

"I don't think we can afford to have a bunch of tailored forces for different things," the general said in an interview with The Associated Press just before he took over his new command. "That's why we're going to have to be able to operate across the full spectrum of conflict and use the tools and apply them in the right way."

A veteran of more than 40 months in Afghanistan over the past four and a half years, Gen Rodriguez takes over Forces Command as the US Army faces a difficult future. The Obama administration and a fractious Congress are wrangling over hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts to the Pentagon budget that could slash programmes and force deeper reductions in the size of the armed forces.

Already the army is set to cut nearly 50,000 soldiers by 2016, trimming the force back to about 520,000.

Looking into the future, Gen Rodriguez said he needs to be able to provide the trained and ready forces that commanders at the warfront need to meet a diverse threat. The army of tomorrow, he said, will have to be more flexible and adapt to many situations, from conventional warfare and deadly counterinsurgency campaigns to training missions that can help an emerging nation learn to protect itself.

Any future enemy will launch a hybrid attack that could involve a host of tactics, including chemical warfare, car bombs and cyberattacks. And the army's leaders, he said, will have to adjust and "switch between high tempo offensive operations to a defensive operation to a stability operation to a humanitarian operation".

Soldiers today must be trained not only on how to use their weapons and conduct operations, but they must also master an ever-expanding array of high-tech intelligence, surveillance, communications and other equipment.

That will be particularly important, Gen Rodriguez said, as forces shift to the hotly contested eastern border region of Afghanistan, where the rugged terrain and often isolated tribal communities force a greater reliance on long-range observation, a stronger link between manned and unmanned surveillance equipment and dependence on a fragile human intelligence network.

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