Wartime funding will be 'substantially smaller'

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told members of Congress on Wednesday that the total for President Obama’s wartime budget for 2015, which is now being finalized, would be “substantially smaller” than the amount allocated for 2014.

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The Pentagon is currently using a placeholder figure of $79.4 billion, the same as in 2014. But the amount is expected to be much less next year, with the war in Afghanistan winding down.

"We expect that the proposal will be substantially smaller than the placeholder figure," Hagel said.

The wartime budget, also known as Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), was delayed for four months pending the president's decision on how many troops to keep in Afghanistan. That decision came several weeks ago.

Hagel also gave a few hints as to what it would cover in addition to the U.S. presence in Afghanistan after 2014.

"The OCO budget request will also cover other costs related to [U.S. Central Command] operations in the Mideast," he told members of the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee in prepared remarks.

He said up to $5 billion would also go toward a Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund previously announced by the president to allow the U.S. to train, build capacity, and facilitate operations of partner countries to combat terrorism.

"These funds will give us the flexibility to fulfill different missions such as training security forces in Yemen supporting a regionally-led force to help keep peace in Somalia, working with European allies to train a security force and border patrol in Libya, and facilitating French operations in Mali," Hagel said.

Hagel said the OCO request would also cover the president's $1 billion European Reassurance Initiative to reinforce allies in Europe.

In recent years, the OCO has been used to pay for expenses previously paid for in the services' base budgets since it is not subject to defense budget caps. That has prompted some conservative fiscal groups to call it a "slush fund."

A statement released Tuesday by the Office of Management and Budget did not specify what kind of Mideast operations the military would continue to conduct, but said the OCO would include funding for the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan and "DOD's supporting presence in the broader region."

"The Administration will soon submit a budget amendment to request funding for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO)," the OMB statement said.

--This report was updated at 11:35 a.m.