America’s elite special operations forces are poised to take a hit if the sequestration defense cuts, coupled with another continuing budget resolution that ties the military’s hands in directing funds to needed areas, happen in a week.
It would be inglorious treatment for the warfighters such as those who got Osama bin Laden and puts the readiness of and support for the country’s most elite soldiers at risk when al-Qaeda’s operations are growing in Africa and the U.S. prepares to withdraw combat troops from Afghanistan.
U.S. Special Operations Commander Adm. William H. McRaven warned late last month that his command will be faced with a $1 billion budget shortfall thanks to the continuing resolution and sequestration, both up for debate and 11th-hour negotiations when Congress returns next week from the Presidents Day recess.
“We will contribute just like the services do,” McRaven said at the National Defense Industrial Association Special Operations conference in Washington, adding he needed to see more details before saying exactly how operations will be affected.
“We don’t know what sequestration is going to look like, but there is an expectation that it is clearly going to be an additional bill on top of that,” he said.
The chairman of the Readiness Subcommittee at the House Armed Services Committee told PJM tonight that he’s had discussions with McRaven and is concerned about special ops having the resources they need.
“Special ops are what they call the tip of the spear folks — they are the most highly skilled warriors anywhere in the world,” Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) said. “They go into the most dangerous places.”
And they need continual training as well as top-notch support to drop them into operations and pull them out if necessary.
“The prefect example is the effort to kill Osama bin Laden,” Wittman said — “a very, very complex mission” with longtime planning and training and complicated logistics.
Even with budget cuts, he noted, “special operations are not going to say ‘no’ to that mission — we have an obligation to provide them all that they need.”
That means not only stopping $500 billion in sequestration cuts — the Pentagon takes the brunt while an equally large chunk of spending cuts is split among non-defense discretionary spending — on top of $487 billion in cuts not tied to sequestration, but tailoring a continuing resolution that gives the service branch chiefs discretion on where to direct funds.
“We want to make sure that we reduce spending, but we have to do it in a thoughtful way — not one that ties the hands of military leaders,” Wittman said.
The Senate Armed Services Committee was warned at a Feb. 12 hearing on the impact of sequestration that special ops readiness will take a “devastating” hit.
Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), who chairs the Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittee and whose state is home to the headquarters of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, expressed concern about the hit to special ops particularly with the approaching Afghanistan withdrawal.
“And I understand the combined impact of these issues could cut approximately 23 percent in the special ops operations and maintenance accounts and 9 percent in their investment accounts. essentially returning the command to fiscal year 2007 spending levels, or $2.4 billion below the budget request for fiscal year ’13,” Hagan said.
“The reason the SOCOM gets hit especially hard is the same reason that General Odierno and the Army get hit especially hard. Namely that they have a lot of funding in the overseas contingency operations account. That gets hit, too, by sequester,” Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter told the committee. “If sequestration is averted and we get back on course, special operation forces will actually grow slightly, I think from 65,000 to 72,000.”
“If sequestration occurs in the magnitude we’re discussing, everybody will be affected. Because we have to maintain a joint force of conventional and unconventional capability,” said chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said reductions in intelligence capability, training, and aviation training will all affect Special Operations Forces.
“If ever the force is so degraded and so unready, and then we’re asked to use it, it would be immoral to use the force unless it’s well-trained, well-led and well-equipped,” Dempsey said.
“Are we on the path to creating that dilemma?” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked.
“We are on that path,” Dempsey confirmed.
“So please understand that, colleagues: We’re on the path of requiring our military in the future to protect us in a circumstance where they know they don’t have the ability given what we’re doing to the training, the readiness of the force,” Graham said.
All of the military leaders at the witness table agreed.
“The joint chiefs are responsible for balancing global responsibilities, for looking at ways to do things sometimes directly ourselves, sometimes through partners in a region,” Dempsey said. “And I think what you’re hearing today is that our ability to do that is going to be called into doubt, given the effects of sequestration.”
On Tuesday, President Obama travels to Newport News, Va., to visit a shipbuilding facility and make another speech against sequestration — highlighting “the devastating impact that the sequester will have on jobs and middle class families if Congressional Republicans fail to compromise to avert the sequester by March 1,” according to the White House.
It comes as Republican frustration has steadily mounted over Obama’s focus on the domestic impact of cuts with scant attention to the hacksaw that could be taken to military readiness and national security.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said Thursday on Fox he finds it incredible that, after a year and a half of warnings sounded by his committee, “the White House, last week, woke up and says, oh gee, we’re going to have sequestration.”
“So, this just boggles my mind hearing him talk like this like, all of a sudden now, we’ve got a problem. And, I don’t know where they’ve been. The secretary of defense understood. We held five hearings over a year ago about the impact of sequestration on the military,” the chairman said. “The secretary said it would be like shooting ourselves in the head. All of the other, the chairman of the joint chiefs, everybody that testified before the committee told how devastating it would be.”
McKeon said Army Secretary John McHugh told him “if the sequestration goes in full bore and the CR continues through the rest of the year,” the department would have “to take it all out of operations and maintenance.”
“That’s the thing that has the most concerned. Our troops are not going to be getting the training they need to carry out their missions and return home safely,” McKeon said. “I know that they’re not getting the training now that they did a year ago. And I know within a few months, it’s going to be cut back even more drastically. People don’t understand that we’ve already cut a half trillion dollars out of defense. What we’re talking about is an additional half trillion.”
Wittman, whose 1st District includes part of Newport News, said he hopes Obama have a light-bulb moment of what’s at stake with his visit to the naval region.
“I welcome him to go there so he understands what this will mean to our nation’s strategic needs,” he said. “I hope that that engagement is there and that he understands it.”
“But it also requires leadership,” Wittman said. “His thoughts and ideas — specifics — not just these general terms.”