Army announces 40K in troop cuts

Army announces 40K in troop cuts
© Greg Nash

The Army officially announced Thursday plans to cut 40,000 soldiers and lay off 17,000 civilians from a dozen bases across the U.S. over the next two years.   

The bulk of the troop cuts will take place at Georgia's Fort Benning, Texas's Fort Hood and Alaska's Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

Fort Benning will lose 3,402 soldiers, Fort Hood will lose 3,350 soldiers, and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson would lose 2,631. 

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In addition, 23 other Army bases will lose tens to hundreds of troops.

Those include Forts Bliss, Bragg, Campbell, Carson, Drum, Hood, Polk, Riley, Stewart, Wainwright, Belvoir, Huachuca, Irwin, Jackson, Leavenworth, Lee, Leonard Wood, Rucker, Shafter, and Joint Bases Lewis-McChord, San Antonio, Langley-Eustis, and Schofield Barracks and Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Four bases will gain troops, as the Army restructures some units: Forts Gordon, Knox, Meade, and Sill.

The Army said more details would be coming within the next two to three months over where the civilian cuts would take place.

Army officials are briefing lawmakers Thursday on the cuts, and submitting formal notifications to lawmakers whose states have bases that would lose more than 1,000 soldiers. 

The Army has to wait 90 days after those notifications before any cuts can begin. 

The cuts are slated to begin in October and take place over the next two years. They would be made through attrition, but would also include involuntary separations, the Army said. 

Forces were expected to be reduced from 490,000 currently to 475,000 by next year. However, the Army's plan details further cuts to 450,000 the following year, citing budgetary pressures.

The cuts to 450,000 would bring the active-duty Army's troop strength down 21 percent from 2012 levels.

The cuts were expected, as a result of the post-war drawdown from Iraq and Afghanistan, but also defense budget cuts mandated by Congress in 2011.

The cuts of $500 billion over a decade automatically hit the Pentagon in 2013, when lawmakers failed to agree on deficit reduction under the 2011 Budget Control Act. 

But Brig. Gen. Randy George, the Army's director of force management, said the troop cuts were "driven by fiscal constraints." 

The cuts were made according to analysis of what capabilities the Army needs, given the threats it faced, he said. 

"These are incredibility difficult choices," he told reporters at a press briefing Thursday. He said all units were "valuable to the Army and are important to us." 

George said any negative impact on local communities was "regrettable." 

Republicans blasted the troop cuts at a time when military leaders say the U.S. is facing an unprecedented number of threats. 

"The Army's announcement only fuels my strong commitment of working to reverse this president's dangerous legacy of disarming America," said Sen. Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain Inhofe Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 Overnight Defense: Senators show skepticism over Space Force | Navy drops charges against officers in deadly collision | Trump taps next Navy chief Senators show deep skepticism on Space Force proposal MORE (R-Okla.). Fort Sill, in his state, would gain 219 additional troops over the next two years.

"These cuts take us backward -- and at a time when there are mounting threats abroad, it is all the more imperative the U.S. maintains a robust military," said Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.), whose district includes Fort Bragg, which would lose 842 soldiers. 

"Fort Bragg is a way of life in Fayetteville, and everyone feels the disproportionate impact of these cuts- our service men and women, locally-owned business and the community at large," she added. 

Democrats also criticized the Army cuts, but rejected Republican accusations that it was the administration's fault. 

"Republicans, who control both chambers of Congress, have known about these reductions for quite some time," said Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithTrump team spurns Adam Smith with its trade stance Top Armed Services Republican: 'I don't think anybody is satisfied' with Space Force proposal Overnight Defense: House votes to condemn transgender military ban | 5 Republicans vote against ban | Senate bill would block Turkey getting F-35s over Russia deal MORE (D-Wash.), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.

"I'm not surprised that now, only after the specifics have been released, Republicans have decided to cast misplaced blame on the Department of Defense," he added.

The Army first announced in 2013 that the cuts could occur, if the budget caps -- referred to as "sequestration" -- remained in place. While Congress negotiated a two-year budget deal to partially lift the caps in 2014 and 2015, the caps will return in full in October, unless Congress lifts them again.

However, Republicans and Democrats do not appear close to any kind of budget deal. The two sides are at an impasse that could result in another government shutdown in October, when the new fiscal year starts. 

Senate and House Republicans have crafted defense spending bills that would leave the budget caps in place, but boost the Pentagon's budget by putting extra money into a war fund not subject to budget caps. 

The White House has vowed to veto those bills, and Senate Democrats have vowed to block them from consideration until Republicans start budget talks to lift the caps from both defense and non-defense spending. 

If Congress does not reverse the budget caps, known as sequestration, the Army could lose 30,000 more troops by 2019, George said. 

Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonOvernight Defense: Senators show skepticism over Space Force | Navy drops charges against officers in deadly collision | Trump taps next Navy chief Senators show deep skepticism on Space Force proposal GOP senators introduce bill to reduce legal immigration  MORE (R-Ark.) slammed the cuts and called on the president not to veto the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, which authorizes Pentagon spending, but does not appropriate any money. 

"From Russian aggression in Ukraine to the Islamic State's barbaric rampage across the Middle East, the threats we face today are more dangerous than ever," Cotton said. "Worse, this accelerated drawdown comes amid President Obama's threat to veto the National Defense Authorization Act and Senate Democrats blockade of the Defense Appropriations bill." 

"What kind of message does this send to our troops who sacrifice so much in defense of our freedom, let alone our enemies around the world?" he said. 

Smith fired back at Republicans, calling on them to begin talks to lift sequestration.

"I offer my Republican colleagues this piece of advice: come to the table and work with Democrats to strike a comprehensive long-term budget agreement that would remove sequestration and put the Federal Government on sound fiscal footing," he said.

He added, "if sequestration is not removed, the Army will face another reduction of 30,000 troops. And that is one of the reasons why the President has said he will veto the Republicans' appropriations bills."

-- Updated 4:45 p.m. ET