OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Army cutting combat brigades

Army cutting combat brigades: The Army could need to cut brigade combat teams — the Army's self-sustainable deploying units — nearly in half to accommodate the Pentagon’s plans to slice the Army’s size to below 450,000 soldiers after 2017.

Gen. John Campbell, the Army’s vice chief of staff and second-highest ranking member, in an exclusive interview with The Hill said the service was already planning to reduce its combat brigades, basic Army units of 5,000 soldiers that can be deployed and sustain themselves overseas.

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The brigades were scheduled to reduce from 45 in 2013 to 32 by 2015, but now the number will shrink further. 

“That 32 is tied to 490,000, not 450,000. ... At 450,000 or 420,000 we can’t keep the same amount,” Campbell said. 

Campbell did not say exactly how few active-duty brigades the Army could afford to have with the smaller forces. 

A Feb. 28 report from the Congressional Research Service cited an Army briefing in suggesting active-duty brigades could be cut to 24 with an Army of 420,000 soldiers in 2019.

Cutting active-duty brigades by that much could dramatically alter U.S. capabilities overseas.

For example, the Army might not be able to keep two active-duty brigades in Europe.

That would send a negative signal to Eastern Europe, where fears about Russia have grown with that country’s military intervention in Ukraine.

It would leave the Pentagon with fewer brigades to deploy around the world for military and humanitarian work. It would also reduce opportunities for training, and could limit U.S. support for some international missions.

The Congressional Research Service report said a 420,000-soldier Army would also mean reducing National Guard brigade combat teams (BCTs) to 22.

“An Army force structure of 24 [active] and 22 [reserve] BCTs lacks the capacity to conduct simultaneous major combat operations while defending the nation at home, sustaining minimal presence in critical regions, and retaining a Global Response Force (1 BCT) at the direction of the commander-in-chief,” the paper said.

Lawmakers have been particularly concerned by National Guard cuts. The Army is planning to reduce National Guard brigades to 28 by 2015, but that number could also shrink further. 

Campbell said there could be some “multi-component” brigade combat teams consisting of active soldiers and Guardsmen.  

“We might have to take some Guard and put them with active, and take some active and put them with Guard,” he said. 

Army officials are working internally with some possible numbers, but are not discussing them publicly in order to give top Army and Pentagon officials time to consider the cuts.

“Once you start down that road, it’s hard to reverse that,” Campbell said. 

Army leaders hope that lawmakers can reverse deep defense cuts known as the sequester by 2016. Sequestration doubled planned cuts of $500 billion to the Defense Department budget through 2023.

Campbell said the Army could also have to cut more combat aviation brigades, which are already scheduled to go down to 11 by 2015. 

General wants Afghan transition, not withdrawal: During a visit to Washington this week, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan sought to bring attention to troops still serving there, amid waning media attention and a recent poll saying the war is now unpopular with the public. 

"We still got 33,000 young men and women in harm’s way in Afghanistan, doing some amazing work," Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford told Pentagon reporters Thursday

"Do I want their story to be told? Yes. Do I want there to be more interest in what they’re doing? ... There’s no question," he said. 

When Dunford testified before the Senate on Wednesday, there were dozens of empty seats for the public, as well as at tables for journalists, for those accompanying witnesses, and even senators, in what used to be packed hearings. 

The empty room prompted Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to comment on the lack of attendance at Wednesday's hearing and reminisce about when attendees hung on to every word. 

Yet, despite the waning interest, Dunford said he was encouraged by lawmakers' support for a post-war mission when U.S. and NATO combat operations end in December. 

"With withdrawal, you cut your losses and you just leave Afghanistan to their devices and I suppose you use hope as a method for the threat of al Qaeda," Dunford said.

"Or you transition and you complete the work that we’re doing and develop the national security forces and you maintain an effective counterterrorism posture in the region to mitigate the very real threat," he said. 

"All the senators yesterday, in a very thoughtful way, understood that we need to transition properly," he said. "They know the consequences of not getting it right. ... I feel there’s very strong support for getting it right in Afghanistan."  

Lawmakers want war funding details: House appropriators say that the Pentagon needs to provide more than just a $79.4 billion placeholder for its 2015 Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) budget.

The heads of the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee said they can’t move their bill on the floor unless they get details on the war funding budget.

“This is a serious hole in your budget here,” Appropriations Defense subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) said at a hearing with Pentagon leaders Thursday.

"I think it's impossible for us to go to the floor with a place holder for $79 billion," said Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.), the top Democrat on the panel.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale said they understood the dilemma the placeholder budget presents and were working on options to give Congress something if the post-2014 situation in Afghanistan is not soon resolved — which is driving the OCO uncertainty.

It’s also unclear how the placeholder budget will affect the Defense authorization bill, which will be marked up before the appropriations bill.

A Senate Armed Services aide said the committee had yet to decide how it would move forward authorizing OCO funding if the Pentagon did not provide more than the placeholder before the markup. 

Senate confirms Krass as CIA general counsel: Two days after Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) issued a scathing speech accusing the CIA of potentially violating the law and separation of powers, the Senate moved to confirm a new CIA general counsel.

The Senate voted 95-4 to confirm Caroline Krass as the CIA’s general counsel, with four Republicans voting against: Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.), Dean Heller (Nev.), Ted Cruz (Texas) and Tim Scott (S.C.).

The confirmation vote was surprising after Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) had said he placed a procedural hold on Krass’s confirmation.

Udall had said he wanted questions answers about the Pentagon’s internal review of the Bush-era interrogation techniques, which he first publicly revealed at Krass’s December confirmation hearing.

The internal review is the document at the center of the allegations that the CIA had spied on Senate Intelligence staffers’ computers.

In a statement, Udall said he released his hold and voted to confirm Krass in order to “help change the direction of the agency."

 
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