Special Ops Poised to Take $1 Billion Hit from Sequestration, CR

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.