Pentagon to Seek Warfighting Funds After Afghan War

The Pentagon will probably request warfighting budgets in addition to its annual defense spending plan even after the U.S. ends its combat role in Afghanistan, the Defense Department’s comptroller said.

“We are refining and broadening” what’s considered war spending by including pools of money such as President Barack Obama’s proposals for a $1 billion European Reassurance Initiative and a $5 billion counterterrorism fund, Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale said yesterday in an interview.

“So I think there’s a reasonable chance that they would last for several years at least,” said Hale, who’s leaving office tomorrow after five years as comptroller.

While the defense budget provides funds for weapons and personnel, the cost of fighting wars such as those in Iraq and now Afghanistan has been accounted for separately as “Overseas Contingency Operations.”

While Hale declined to provide specifics of the warfighting request for the coming fiscal year, which the White House is set to release today, it will be about $58.6 billion, according to another government official who asked not to be identified discussing the funding before it’s announced.

That would be the smallest amount since $17 billion was approved for fiscal 2002, which began weeks after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The largest amount was $187 billion in fiscal 2008.

Placeholder Estimate

Obama proposed $496 billion for defense spending in fiscal 2015 while offering only a placeholder estimate of $79.4 billion for warfighting pending his decision in May to reduce U.S. forces in Afghanistan to 9,800 by the end of this year and half that in 2015.

“Congress is not a rubber stamp,” Representative Howard “Buck” McKeon of California, who heads the House Armed Services Committee, said today in an e-mailed statement. “The Armed Services Committee will examine the proposal closely, once it is actually transmitted and details are provided.”

McKeon said the Republican-led committee will ask whether the new request is “more realistic than the artificially low requests of the past that ultimately harmed readiness.”

Hale said post-Afghanistan war-funding requests also “could be paying the added costs for some troops outside of Afghanistan, but still in the Mideast region.”

Afghan Security

The new request will provide funding for the 336,306 members of the Afghan security forces, pay for the Pentagon’s joint service office that counters roadside bombs and “a whole series of coalition support” funds, he said.

The new war request also would provide billions of dollars for the restoration of equipment in transit or still in Afghanistan, he said.

“It will take at least a couple of years” of continued war requests because it will take that much time to get the equipment out of Afghanistan and into depots for repair, he said. General Dynamics Corp. and BAE Systems Plc are two of the largest defense contractors upgrading war equipment.

Reflecting on his years as the Pentagon’s top money man, Hale said the nadir was last year’s furloughs of Defense Department civilian workers because of the automatic budget cuts called sequestration.

“I just felt terrible at what we had to do to our civilian workforce,” he said.

The reward of his job in a time of declining spending, he said, “was that we were able to meet the resource needs of the department in such tumultuous times and some things that only a comptroller would love -- like finally making some progress” on preparing the Defense Department’s books for their first full audit.

“We’ll have most of the statements in the department ‘audit-ready’” by September, he said.

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