World Bulletin/News Desk
The top U.S. military officer said on Saturday he was confident enough U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan after 2014 to accomplish the three-part mission agreed to by allies at last year's NATO summit in Chicago.
Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he did not know whether President Barack Obama would announce the size of the post-2014 U.S. force for Afghanistan during his upcoming State of the Union address.
But he said an announcement on the management of forces in 2013 "has to come fairly soon, simply because we're two months in(to)" the year. Officials have said a decision on the size of the post-2014 U.S. force would be made before any announcement of the speed of the 2013 drawdown.
Afghan forces are expected to take over the lead role for security in Afghanistan this spring. The international force plans to hand over full responsibility for security to the Afghans by the end of 2014, with most international combat forces being withdrawn.
Dempsey spoke to reporters while en route to Afghanistan for a change of command ceremony for the International Security Assistance Force. Marine Corps General John Allen will hand over command of the international coalition to Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, expected to be the force's last commander.
Dempsey played down a suggestion by some White House officials that the United States might consider a "zero option" and leave no troops behind in Afghanistan. Dempsey said no one had suggested that to him, "and I would never recommend zero."
White House officials told reporters last month ahead of a visit by Afghan President Hamid Karzai that the possibility of leaving no troops behind after 2014 was an option.
"The military at this point is confident that the number will match the mission," Dempsey said. "Let me put it this way: I will not at any point ask 10,000 troops to do 20,000 troops' work."
Dempsey said the only circumstance under which a zero option was likely to come into play was if the two sides failed to negotiate a bilateral security agreement, as happened in Iraq.
"This is why the bilateral security agreement is so important, because if we get this agreement in place soon, then it takes away all of the anxieties related to our enduring presence there," he said.
He noted that Karzai and Obama had agreed they wanted to complete a bilateral security agreement this year, if possible by the spring.
Dempsey said he thought the chances of reaching a security agreement that would provide immunity and other protections for U.S. forces were better in Afghanistan than in Iraq, where the United States failed to reach a deal.
"Using the lessons of Iraq we started this process sooner," he said, adding that it gave them more time to deal with internal domestic political issues.
He also noted that Afghanistan's economy was considerably weaker than Iraq's, which led Afghans to recognize they would need international support for the long-term, an issue that did not confront oil-rich Iraq.
Tight budget may force Pentagon to cut forces
The Pentagon will have to cut the size of U.S. military forces for the second time in as many years if across-the-board spending reductions of $470 billion over 10 years take effect March 1, Dempsey also said on Saturday.
General Martin Dempsey said about a third of the cuts would have to come from forces, with the remaining two-thirds taken from spending on modernization, compensation and readiness.
He noted that the Army had begun to shrink last year toward 490,000 from a high of 570,000, a result of efforts to trim $487 billion over 10 years as required by the Budget Control Act of 2011.
The Budget Control Act also envisioned the additional across-the-board cuts under a process known as sequestration. If those cuts go into effect, "the Army will have to come down again," Dempsey said.
Dempsey said two recent high-profile examples of belt-tightening were attempts by the Pentagon to adapt to the current challenging budget climate and had nothing to do with sequestration.
The Pentagon said last week it would seek a smaller-than-expected pay increase of 1 percent for military personnel in the 2014 fiscal year budget. Pay increases have generally been pegged to an employment cost index and had been expected to rise 1.7 percent.
"That action is being taken to help us absorb the $487 billion in the Budget Control Act. It has nothing to do with sequestration," Dempsey said.
A defense official said the lower pay increase would save the department about $470 million during the 2014 fiscal year. The savings would amount to $3 billion over five years because future increases would be based on the lower 2014 raise.
Dempsey said the decision this week to delay deployment of the USS Harry Truman aircraft carrier strike group to the Middle East was to adjust to funding for the 2013 fiscal year.
Congress has not appropriated funds for the Pentagon for 2013. Instead, it passed a continuing resolution that temporarily extends Pentagon funding until late March at 2012 levels.
"The continuing resolution under which we're operating has more money in the investment account and less money in operations and maintenance and we don't have transfer authority to move it," Dempsey said. "So our operations and maintenance is deteriorating because of the misalignment of funding in the continuing resolution."
Dempsey is due to testify on the impact of sequestration at a hearing next week before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"What we've got to make clear to the Congress next week (is) that it's not just about sequestration. We're trying to absorb the $487 billion Budget Control Act, we're trying to absorb the challenges that were imposed on us by the continuing resolution and we're anticipating absorbing sequestration," Dempsey said.
Last Mod: 09 Şubat 2013, 16:56