Defense Secretary Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelInterpreter who helped rescue Biden in 2008 escapes Afghanistan Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon chiefs to Congress: Don't default Pentagon chiefs say debt default could risk national security MORE pressured Congress Wednesday to reverse the Pentagon's deep budget cuts, saying the cuts put soldiers' lives at risk at a time of growing threats.
"Going forward, whether we can keep our soldiers ready in the future will depend on Congress's partnership in providing the resources to fund the training our soldiers need," Hagel said at the Association of the United States Army.
Hagel said although 150,000 soldiers were no longer deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, about just as many are deployed or stationed around the world, to combat the spread of Ebola, reassure allies in Eastern Europe, and train Kurdish and Iraqi forces in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
"The world is becoming more volatile, less predictable, and in many ways, more threatening. At the same time, our defense budgets are declining," he said.
Cuts of $500 billion over a decade to the Pentagon's budget began last year after lawmakers failed to agree on closing the federal budget deficit. That set off the automatic "sequestration" spending cuts and added to already-scheduled defense cuts of $500 billion over the next 10 years.
The cuts forced the Army to scale back to two ready combat brigades, Hagel said.
While 12 of 37 Army combat brigades are now trained at the highest level of combat readiness, "it falls short of what I believe is sufficient to defend our nation and our allies with minimum risk," he said.
Hagel said the Pentagon would face a shortfall of $70 billion over the next five years if Congress does not reverse the cuts.
Lawmakers reduced the cuts some in 2014 and 2015, but the sequester is slated to return next October.
"If Congress does not act, it will return in 2016, stunting and reversing the Army's readiness, just as we've have begun to recover and requiring even more dramatic reductions in force structure," he said.