Military officials say they need wartime funding after Afghan War ends

As defense budgets shrink, and as the Afghan War comes to an end, military officials are fighting to preserve wartime funding that some lawmakers say has become a slush fund. 

Military officials argued during a House Armed Services subcommittee hearing Thursday that they will need the wartime funding — known as overseas contingency operations (OCO) funding — for at least several years, to bring home and fix equipment used during the Afghanistan War, without cutting further into their base budgets. 

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Although the Pentagon has released its 2015 budget request, it has not yet released its 2015 wartime funding request, since whether a U.S. troop presence remains in Afghanistan after combat operations end is still in question and would affect the request amount.

Pentagon officials did, however, submit a placeholder of about $79 billion dollars, less than 2014's $85 billion request. 

Although OCO funding was meant to fund Iraq and Afghanistan war-related expenditures, it has increasingly widened to include funding for things like counterterrorism operations in Africa. 

And in recent years, as the services have faced budget shortages, it has also been used for training and other things that were previously funded in base budgets. 

The Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations Lt. Gen. James Huggins said he was worried that without OCO funding, the Army would not have money to rebuild its force and fix equipment after a decade of war, or support current operations around the world. In order to pay for these things, the Army would have to cut training for forces, he said. 

Vice Adm. Joseph P. Mulloy, the Navy’s deputy chief of naval operations for integration of capabilities and resources, said OCO funding would be needed to continue operating in the Middle East, even after the Afghan War ends. 

“As we reduce our ground combat forces … our demand for naval presence in the theater will remain high for the foreseeable future,” he said, adding that any reduction in OCO funding should be gradual, as those operations shift to base funding. 

Lt. Gen. Burton M. Field, the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for operations, plans and requirements, said OCO funding was 13 percent of the Air Force’s discretionary budget and 20 percent of its day-to-day operations budget. 

Also, Air Force bases in Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates are funded by OCO funding, Field said. 

Rep. Rob WittmanRobert (Rob) Joseph WittmanOvernight Defense: Latest on House defense bill markup | Air Force One, low-yield nukes spark debate | House Dems introduce resolutions blocking Saudi arms sales | Trump to send 1,000 troops to Poland House panel votes to restrict possible changes to Air Force One design 58 GOP lawmakers vote against disaster aid bill MORE (R-Va.), chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on Readiness, said wartime funding was needed after combat operations in Afghanistan end, citing “high priority” activities, such as training other nations’ militaries; humanitarian assistance; conducting training exercises and performing intelligence functions.  

“The fact of the matter is that the rapidly broadening scope of challenges now facing our military has led to the [Pentagon] becoming increasingly dependent on OCO to support enduring activities beyond Afghanistan’s borders that must continue after combat operations have ended,” he said.