Funding impasse could extend combat tour
WASHINGTON — Lengthy delays in finalizing supplemental war funding could force Army leaders to extend some soldiers’ tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday.
Army officials are planning cutbacks in home-station training, cuts in repair of predeployment training equipment and delays in upgrades to barracks and family facilities at stations worldwide if the president’s $94 billion supplemental request isn’t approved by Congress by April 15, Gates said at a media roundtable.
If the funding impasse stretches past May 15, he said officials will consider even more severe measures: canceling orders on all repair parts for equipment not related to war, reducing repair work at all Army depots and sharply cutting predeployment training of some brigade combat teams.
“This in turn will cause units in theater to have their tours extended, because other units are not ready to take their place,” he said.
Democrats have tied the latest fiscal 2007 supplemental request, and more than $3.1 billion in base closure projects, to plans for withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq by Sept. 1, 2008. President Bush has said he will veto any such plan.
The Democratic supplemental funding plan, which totals more than $120 billion after various add-ons, was approved by the full House on Friday. The Senate could vote on the measure as early as next week.
House Democratic leaders are offering billions in federal funds for lawmakers’ pet projects large and small to secure enough votes this week to pass an Iraq funding bill that would end the war next year.
Congress already approved $70 billion in supplemental funds for fiscal 2007 as part of the annual defense budget in an effort to avoid midyear funding shortfalls.
Gates said another civilian hiring freeze and canceling of nonwar contracts were also likely if the funding is not approved in time.
“This kind of disruption to key programs will have a generally adverse effect on the readiness of the Army,” he said.
Meanwhile, Gates did not rule out the possibility that even more troops could be added to those selected for the “surge,” which number about 28,700, up from the 21,000 proposed by Bush in January.
“I hope and believe that the forces that have been pledged … are sufficient,” Gates said.
However, he said, “I have no doubt” that as the Baghdad security plan continues to be put into place “certain capabilities” might be required that would add to the rosters.
“It’s not a static situation,” Gates said.
Gates did not say which units might be affected if the funding is not finalized.
Stars and Stripes reporter Lisa Burgess contributed to this story.