U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel is recommending shrinking the Army to its smallest size in decades in an effort to balance defence needs with budget realities, according to defence officials.

Army leaders have been saying for months that they expected to absorb additional troop reductions as the nation prepares to end its combat role in Afghanistan this year. The Army is already scheduled to shrink to 4,90,000 active-duty members from a wartime peak of 5,70,000. Mr. Hagel is expected to propose cutting it further to between 4,40,000 and 4,50,000.

Navy Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon’s press secretary, said on Monday that Mr. Hagel consulted closely with the military service chiefs on how to balance defence and budget-saving requirements.

“He has worked hard with the services to ensure that we continue to stand for the defence of our national interests that whatever budget priorities we establish, we do so in keeping with our defence strategy and with a strong commitment to the men and women in uniform and to their families, Mr. Kirby said.

“But he has also said that we have to face the realities of our time. We must be pragmatic. We can’t escape tough choices. He and the chiefs are willing to make those choices,” Mr. Kirby said.

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