WASHINGTON, March 2, 2011 — Congress needs to take steps now to ensure troops in harm’s way in Afghanistan get the gear and capabilities they need to face the Taliban, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a congressional panel today.
Gates told the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee that the matter is a grave concern to him.
The Defense Department requested reprogramming $1.2 billion last month to purchase urgently needed equipment to protect U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the secretary noted, and the request has yet to be approved.
“As of last week, all congressional committees except this one approved the request,” Gates said of the funding from the fiscal 2011 budget that Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, had requested.
“General Petraeus requested this equipment as an urgent matter to better protect our forward-operating bases to continue to push into contested areas,” Gates told the subcommittee. The equipment would improve and protect against improvised explosive devices through enhanced intelligence and reconnaissance capabilities, particularly through the use of fixed-base sensors, he said.
“Our troops need this force-protection equipment, and they need it now,” the secretary said. “Every day that goes by is a day they will go without it, [and it puts] the lives of our troops at greater risk.”
The secretary said the items must be sent to the troops in Afghanistan prior to the fighting season, which begins in a matter of weeks.
“We should not put American lives at risk to protect specific programs or contractors,” Gates told the lawmakers. “I strongly urge the committee to act on this matter today so we can get this urgently needed equipment flowing to our troops.”
Gates reiterated his stand that a shortfall in the defense budget would create a negative effect on military strength and readiness. Even as the Defense Department makes its own cuts to improve efficiency and curtail needless spending, he said, America still is in a “dangerous and often unstable world.”
U.S. military forces must remain “strong and agile enough to face a diverse range of threats,” the secretary added, “from nonstate actors attempting to acquire and use weapons of mass destruction and sophisticated missiles, to the more traditional threats of other states, both building up their conventional forces and developing new capabilities that target our traditional strength.”
Mullen told the subcommittee a continuing resolution for fiscal 2011 “would not only reduce our budget by $23 billion, it would deprive us of the flexibility we need to support our troops and their families.”
The services already have taken disruptive, and in some cases, irreversible steps to live within the confines of the continuing resolution, “steps that ultimately make us less effective,” he said.
“Some programs may take years to recover if the continuing resolution is extended through the end of September,” Mullen said, urging quick passage of the 2011 budget. “Our global commitments have not shrunk; if anything, they continue to grow. And the world is a lot less predictable now than we could have ever imagined. You need look no further than events across the Middle East and North Africa to see the truth in that.”
Mullen said the Defense Department must become not only more efficient, but also more pragmatic “about the world we live in.” Paying for bloated programs or unnecessary organizations cannot continue without sacrificing fighting power, he said. And the military no longer can put off investments that would preserve power across “the spectrum of conflict,” he added.
“This proposed budget,” Mullen said, “builds on the balance we started to achieve last year and represents the best of both fiscal responsibility and sound national security.”
Mullen praised the work of the troops and their families as they finish one war in Iraq and begin to turn corners in Afghanistan.
“I know you share my pride in them and that you will keep them foremost in mind as you consider the elements of this proposal,” he told the subcommittee.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)