Budget Woes Top List of Concerns in Afghanistan

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan, July 30, 2011 — Bud­get cuts — not oper­a­tional issues — are the main con­cern of sol­diers and Marines assigned here.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is hold­ing troop talks through­out the coun­try and is being pep­pered with ques­tions about the U.S. debt cri­sis and the future of mil­i­tary ben­e­fits.

Mullen thanked ser­vice mem­bers in Kan­da­har and here for their sac­ri­fices. At both talks he stressed the effects of change and being ready for unex­pect­ed change. He also stressed the need for lead­er­ship at all lev­els.

Then he threw the floor open for ques­tions. In both places, sol­diers and Marines expressed con­cern about the debt nego­ti­a­tions. “The dis­cus­sion real­ly cen­ters on pro­vid­ing by law an increase in the debt ceil­ing so the Unit­ed States can pay its bills,” the chair­man said. “And the bills real­ly run the full spec­trum. I real­ly don’t know the answer to the ques­tion to how, if we default, how that will work out.”

The U.S. Trea­sury deliv­ers ser­vice mem­bers’ pay checks, and sends them to vet­er­ans and Social Secu­ri­ty recip­i­ents. “That’s some­thing that the gov­ern­ment lead­er­ship will have to fig­ure out,” he said. “I hon­est­ly hope we don’t get there. But I don’t expect it will affect — cer­tain­ly in the short term — oper­a­tions here and oper­a­tions around the world.”

Assum­ing a solu­tion to the debt cri­sis is reached, the chair­man dis­cussed what the defense bud­get will look like. He said there is increas­ing pres­sure over­all on the fed­er­al bud­get to reduce the deficit. This has to be addressed, he said.

“I’ve said for a long time, I believe that the sin­gle biggest threat to nation­al secu­ri­ty is this grow­ing debt,” he said. “The more that grows the more like­li­hood that the defense bud­get will get small­er.”

This is a prob­lem because no one knows what could con­front the Unit­ed States in the future. “We have some sig­nif­i­cant nation­al secu­ri­ty require­ments to meet now, and the best I can tell, they are not going to go away,” Mullen said. “As that bud­get pres­sure builds … we’re going to have to make deci­sions on what we’re going to do and what we’re not going to do.”

Still, the cur­rent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are on the top of the Defense Department’s pri­or­i­ty list. All the defense lead­ers, he said, “are very focused on get­ting you what you need here in the fight. I don’t see any cir­cum­stances where that won’t be at the top of the list.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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