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Sequestration could delay redeployment from Afghanistan

Army News Service

Published: 04:25PM February 21st, 2013
Sequestration could delay redeployment from Afghanistan

C. Todd Lopez

Gen. Raymond T. Odierno answers questions from the audience during a visit to the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON — The lack of an appropriations bill coupled with sequestration could eventually cause Soldiers to be delayed in their redeployment home from Afghanistan, the Army’s top officer said.

Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, speaking Feb. 15 at the Brookings Institution, said replacement forces to Afghanistan in 2014 could be affected by a shortage of training dollars and be forced to delay their deployment.

Sequestration will mean an additional $500 billion in defense cuts, and shifting funding for IED detection and electronic warfare equipment from overseas contingency operations budgets to service operations and maintenance budgets will mean an additional $100 billion in cuts.

“Today, in my opinion, the greatest threat to our national security is the fiscal uncertainty resulting from the lack of predictability in the budget cycles,” Odierno said. “Our country’s inability to put its fiscal house in order compromises the future of the joint force, the Army, and ultimately will impact our ability to provide security to our nation.”

The U.S. military is looking now at a possible $1.3 trillion in defense cuts overall, Odierno said. Compounding cuts to defense budgets is the lack of a confirmed budget for the services — the military is operating now on a “continuing resolution,” which is how Congress funds the government if it has not passed an appropriations bill. A continuing resolution makes military planning difficult.

Right now, Odierno said, the continuing resolution has created a “mismatch of funds” that doesn’t leave enough in the operations and maintenance accounts. There’s a $6 billion shortfall there compared to what the Army needs, and sequestration will add another $5.4 billion to that shortfall.

Operations and maintenance funding allows the Army to train, so a shortfall in those funds means that fewer Soldiers will be able to train for Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We’re funding, totally, Afghanistan. We’re going to fund, totally, Korea, and sustain the readiness level in Korea,” Odierno said. “What that means is the rest of the forces that are now back in the United States will not be able to train. They will be able to do very small-level, squad-level training. They will not be able to do platoon-level, company-level, battalion-level training back at their installations. They will not be able to go out to combat training centers, which is what provides them the final readiness certification at the battalion and brigade level.”

The general said the forces that are slated next to go to Afghanistan are going to be ready to go, insofar as training and equipping is concerned.

“What my concern is, the ones who come after them, they will now be behind,” he said.

What that means for the forces in Afghanistan in 2014 is that they might have to wait to redeploy while the follow-on forces are readied for their deployment.

Earlier last week, Odierno told Congress defense cuts will result in paring down military strength as well as civilian numbers.

The Army already is reducing the number of Soldiers in its ranks by about 88,000. Sequestration could bring the loss of an additional 100,000 soldiers across the active force and the reserve components, Odierno said. In all, about 190,000 soldiers will have to be cut — though the general believes it will be more than that.

“My guess, in the end, it’ll be over 200,000 soldiers we will have to take out of the active duty, Army National Guard, and U.S. Army Reserve,” he said.

That cut will mean a loss of force structure, he said. It will cost the Army a 40-percent reduction in brigade combat teams, when it’s all done.

A smaller Army means a loss of ability to influence events and nations, the general said.

If the force is downsized too much, “you lose your ability to deter conflict,” Odierno said.

“My concern is — you have people who miscalculate,” he said. “Almost every great war we’ve been into, or great regional conflict, has been based on a huge miscalculation by somebody. And what I worry about is we will cause people to miscalculate, which will then cause us to have to get involved.”

Odierno said that without sequestration, the Army may drop below 490,000 Soldiers — something he said is doable, if managed correctly to avoid loss of skill and capability. If sequestration does happen, he said, he is concerned about not dropping below a specific number — one he didn’t say — to avoid losing the ability to deter conflict, and to ensure the Army has the capability to do the things the President asks the Army to do. That number, he said, might be smaller than 490,000.

Odierno said his goal is to do the “large majority” of force cuts by attrition. But personnel boards that make other cuts might have to come into the mix at some point.

“There will have to be some boards that we conduct that we maybe ask people to retire earlier than they might want,” he said. “And there might be some boards that tell us we need some officers and some senior noncommissioned officers to leave. But we will try to minimize that as much as we can.”