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Border Mission Drains War Reset Fund

Despite the nearly $300 billion cost of the Iraq war so far, the military needs still more: According to internal Pentagon budget documents, the services asked the Pentagon for more than $68 billion in the fiscal year 2006 supplemental. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Pamela Hess
UPI Pentagon Correspondent
Washington (UPI) Jun 07, 2006
When the Senate took $1.9 billion out of the war supplemental to fund border security last month, $1.6 billion came out of funds to replace equipment destroyed or worn out from four years of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. The money was diverted at the behest of the White House in a last-minute bid to address growing political unrest about illegal immigration.

The Office of Management and Budget championed the change without input from the Army or the Marine Corps whose budgets were sliced, a Pentagon budget official told United Press International last week.

"It was done in a 24-hour period, and presented as a fait accompli," the official said.

The Senate accepted the offer "without recognizing they were shorting the very people fighting the war," the official said.

"You can't tell me that illegal aliens coming across the border pose the same kind of threat to national security as insurgents in Anbar do against Marines," the official said.

The amendment, sponsored by Republican Sens. Bill Frist (Tenn.) and Judd Gregg (N.H.), transferred $1.9 billion from the fiscal year 2006 emergency war supplemental to the Department of Homeland Security. As part of the plan, the National Guard is to provide some 6,000 soldiers for border duty for at least a year.

Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul McHale said in May the Defense Department will be completely reimbursed for the costs of the border deployment, about $756 million.

It will be reimbursed, but with money taken directly out of the Marine Corps' and Army's pocket -- $500 million and $1.1 billion respectively -- that was intended to replace trucks, jammers and radios.

A source in Frist's office said the amendment "did not specify what accounts money was to be taken out of the defense request. It was written in such a way as to provide (flexibility) to the Pentagon."

But the decision has already been made in OMB, and attempts to get the administration to restore the funding have fallen on deaf ears, according to the Pentagon official.

"We tried the normal mechanisms inside the building and it was 'talk to the hand,'" the official said, on condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivity of the matter. "There is no appeal mechanism. It was done very quickly, by directive."

There are many categories of spending in the supplemental, including the direct cost of war; Iraq reconstruction; equipping and training Iraqi security forces; and resetting the force.

The direct cost includes ammunition, combat pay, food, and transportation. For the Marine Corps, the total in Iraq is about $5 billion a year. That money can't be touched without an immediate negative impact on U.S. troops.

But the Marine Corps faces a larger and more worrisome bill for which it has received little help. It will cost at least $11.7 billion for the Marine Corps to "reset" -- that is, restore all the equipment worn out or lost to combat in the last four years. Even if it received all the money now, it would take about two years to rebuild to its pre-Sept. 11 capabilities.

The Marine Corps has seen nearly 3,500 pieces of ground equipment destroyed so far, and it has lost at least 27 aircraft in the Middle East. Every day in Iraq, trucks and Humvees age four to nine times faster than they do in peacetime because of the heat, road conditions, weight of the armor, and constant use, to say nothing of roadside bombs.

For the last three years, the Marine Corps has been cannibalizing its vehicles and weapons used in training, and draining its war reserves to keep deployed troops fully outfitted.

When a helicopter is shot down, for instance, another one is scrounged up and brought forward -- there are no "hot" helicopter production lines. But that means a Marine unit somewhere else has given up its equipment, degrading its training and affecting its safety when it does deploy.

"It is directly related to the war effort, because it has to do with the training these guys on what they do there," a senior Marine official told UPI. "You can't just give these guys a machine gun for their last 30 days of training in the Mojave desert. You want them laying behind their machine guns so when they get to Iraq they are experts, not making beginner mistakes."

In some cases, the first time a Marine will see a particular radio or radar will be in his Humvee in Anbar province.

It is a considerable sum to the Marine Corps, which in the regular fiscal year 2007 budget is slated for less than $2 billion for its entire procurement budget -- less than a tenth of what the Navy and Air Force each get.

The Marine Corps has received only $1.6 billion in reset funding so far, included in the 2006 "bridge" supplemental provided by Congress last fall.

"Just as in every previous war in the 20th Century, the real impact of the conflict is not realized by the public until years after the Marines and soldiers have returned home to a less capable, less ready force," the Pentagon official said. "We are trying to mitigate that ... while the (Bush) administration is offering up more of our requested reset funds to address other societal needs."

Despite the nearly $300 billion cost of the Iraq war so far, the military needs still more: According to internal Pentagon budget documents, the services asked the Pentagon for more than $68 billion in the fiscal year 2006 supplemental.

The Pentagon knocked nearly $2 billion off that request before submitting it to the White House. With the Senate's cut, the military now has $4 billion less than it needs for the war in 2006.

This shortfall, even within the staggering war budget, suggests a serious debate about defense spending is needed.

"It's a valid criticism," a senior Marine official told UPI. "It shows that the money is going for things that may be iconic but may not be needed right now, when the enemy is saying 'we're not going to fight you symmetrically.'"

The Marine Corps cannot wait for a wholesale revision of the budget, the officials said. It needs to replace more than 3,000 trucks, 5,000 new high-powered jammers, 3,500 radio sets and 1,000 armor kits.

"The last two-term Republican president took us from a hollow force to winning the Cold War," said the official. "The current two-term Republican president may have as his legacy a return to that hollow force.

Source: United Press International

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