Gates, Mullen Urge Swift Action on Budget

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)

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