WEEK AHEAD: Top commander in Afghanistan heads to Capitol Hill

In Dunford's first appearance before Congress since last November's Senate confirmation hearing, the four-star general will go before the upper chamber’s defense panel on Tuesday to outline his strategy to get all American troops out of Afghanistan by next year.

ADVERTISEMENT
On Wednesday, he will make his case to members of the House Armed Services Committee on the pending U.S. drawdown and transition plan to shift all security operations to local Afghan military and police forces.

In March, Dunford and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham told House defense panel Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) they supported deploying 13,600 American forces in Afghanistan after President Obama's 2014 withdrawal deadline.

Those numbers, initially proposed by former Central Command chief Gen. James Mattis, puts Dunford at odds with the White House's call for between 8,000 and 10,000 U.S. troops for postwar Afghanistan.

Administration officials have also flirted with the idea of leaving no American forces in the country after 2014.

Aside from Afghanistan, congressional lawmakers are spending this week exploring what the Pentagon's fiscal future will look like, post-Afghanistan and beyond.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey will go before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday to defend the department's $527 billion budget blueprint for fiscal 2014.

Both are expected to receive questions on the Pentagon's plans to cut roughly $150 billion in defense spending over the next decade as part of across-the-board budget cuts under sequestration.

The Pentagon leaders will also likely face sharp criticism for the department's plan to begin another round of contentious base closures in 2015 as part of the DOD's cost-cutting efforts.

On the House side, Special Operations Command chief Adm. William McRaven and Michael Sheehan, head of the Pentagon's special operations and low-intensity conflict directorate, will explain their fiscal 2014 outlook to members of the House defense subcommittee on emerging threats Wednesday.

Despite the anticipated reduction in military spending in the coming decade, U.S. spending on special operations forces is expected to remain level, if not increase, in the coming years.

Pentagon leaders anticipate a large special operations contingent to make up much of the U.S. postwar presence in Afghanistan while accelerating the use of those elite military units in counterterrorism operations in Western Africa and the Mideast.

On Tuesday, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos will defend their version of the fiscal 2014 spending plan before House defense committee members. 

Nearly all of the Navy's shipbuilding priorities, from new aircraft carriers and submarines to the next-generation Littoral Combat Ship, received sizable funding increases in the 2014 budget sent to Congress last week.

The Ohio and Virginia-class submarines and the new Ford-class aircraft carrier ended up being the biggest winners in the Navy's $23.3 billion shipbuilding portion of the Pentagon's $527 billion defense budget.

That same day, Army leaders will provide their outlook on the service's readiness to fight future wars to the House defense committee.

Lt. Gen. James Huggins, the Army's deputy chief of operations, will testify alongside top officials from the Army National Guard and Army Reserve on how the ground service plans to rebound from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Army arguably took the biggest hit under the Pentagon's plan to reduce spending inside the DOD, sustaining massive cuts to its total active duty and reserve troop numbers.

The cuts come as the Army is attempting to rebuild its ranks after over a decade of continuous combat and as it prepares for a shift of its forces to the Asia-Pacific region.

That shift, along with how the services plan to deal with other brewing hot spots across the globe, will be the topic of discussion during Thursday's Senate Armed Services hearing with the vice chiefs of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force.

Army Gen. John Campbell, Adm. Mark Ferguson, Marine Corps Gen. John Paxton and Air Force Gen. Larry Spencer will provide their take on how the U.S. military is positioned to deal with looming threats from Syria, North Korea, Iran and elsewhere around the world.

Those emerging threats will also take center stage when Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, appear before the Senate Armed Services panel on Thursday.

During testimony before the House intelligence panel last Thursday, Clapper said that U.S. intelligence agencies have "reasonably good insight" into the North Korea's aggressive military actions but are still struggling to gain inroads into the government’s inner circle.

On Syria, Clapper raised concerns about whether Washington would be able to secure Syria's vast stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons if embattled President Bashar Assad is overthrown. 

"It would be very, very situational dependent to render an assessment on how well we could secure any or all of the [weapon] facilities in Syria," Clapper said at the time.

Recent articles:

Pentagon’s $527 billion budget includes new base closures, military benefit cuts

Drone programs take across-the-board hit in Pentagon budget

Obama campaigned against military base closures now in his budget

Security of Syrian weapons still in question

Pentagon, US intelligence back off North Korea nuclear claims