Overnight Defense: Army details 40K troop cut

THE TOPLINE: 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 troops: 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, and Langley-Eustis, and the Schofield Barracks and Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Four bases will gain troops, as the Army restructures some units at 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.

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

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 cuts, the Army said.

They would bring the Army force strength down from 490,000 currently to 475,000 next year and eventually to 450,000 by 2017.

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

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

"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."

LAWMAKERS FIGHT OVER CUTS: Republicans blasted the Army cuts on Thursday, at a time when military leaders say the U.S. is facing an unprecedented number of threats.

"The Army's announcement only fuel's my strong commitment of working to reverse this president's dangerous legacy of disarming America," said Sen. Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeThe Hill's Morning Report - Dems look to rebuild 'blue wall' Funding caps, border wall set stage for defense budget battle Trump's claims of defeating ISIS roil Congress MORE (R-Okla.).

"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 Smith737 crisis tests Boeing's clout in Washington Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief under investigation over Boeing ties | Trump uses visual aids to tout progress against ISIS | Pentagon, Amnesty International spar over civilian drone deaths Acting Pentagon chief says he hasn't 'walked through' Space Force proposal with skeptical Dem chairman 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 said.

The Army first announced in 2013 that the cuts could occur, if budget caps from sequestration remained in place.

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

"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," Smith 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."

GENERAL: RUSSIA 'GREATEST THREAT': Russia presents the greatest existential threat to U.S. national security, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford said Thursday during his confirmation hearing to become the nation's top military officer.

"My assessment today ... is that Russia presents the greatest threat to our national security," said Dunford, who is currently the commandant of the Marine Corps.

Dunford cited Russia's capability as a nuclear weapons power and its "alarming behavior" in violating allies' sovereignty.

"So if you want to talk about a nation that could pose an existential threat to the United States, I'd have to point to Russia," the nominee to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

Moscow invaded neighboring Ukraine last year and annexed the peninsula of Crimea. U.S. and Western officials say since then, Russia has supported separatists in Eastern Ukraine with training and weapons.

Republicans and Democrats in Congress have grown increasingly vocal in calling for the White House to provide Ukrainian forces with lethal aid.

So far, the administration has refused to do so, opting to provide humanitarian, financial and non-lethal aide. It has also joined with Western allies in imposing several rounds of sanctions on Russia.

KERRY: NO RUSH ON IRAN DEAL: Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryBiden leads CNN poll, but Harris, Sanders on the rise Beto is the poor man's Obama — Dems can do better Joe Biden could be a great president, but can he win? MORE said Thursday that U.S. negotiators are hard at work on finalizing a deal to limit Iran's nuclear capacity, but signaled their patience has its limits.

"As I have said many times and as I discussed with President Obama last night, we are not going to sit at the negotiating table forever," Kerry told reporters in Vienna.

"I emphasize: Given that the work here is incredibly technical and that the stakes are very, very high, we will not rush and we will not be rushed, and we won't let ourselves be rushed through any aspect of this," he added.

Negotiators have already blown past a June 30 deadline for talks.

Meanwhile, House lawmakers sounded a warning to the administration about racing toward what they worry could be a bad deal.

"That's a bad deal for us: permanent concessions in exchange for temporary benefits -- and that's only if Iran doesn't cheat like North Korea did," Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), the head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said during a hearing on the talks. "So Iran is left a few steps away from the bomb and more able to dominate the region -- this is my take on this."

McCain piled on, saying the Obama administration is desperate for a deal.

"Many concessions have been made, and I guess they are trying to force some more because it's clear who wants the deal more, and that's the United States," he said on MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports."

"The president bases all of this on the delusion that an agreement will cause a partnership between the United States and Iran in the region, meanwhile the Iranians continue their aggression in at least four countries," McCain continued.

NEW LIFE FOR BRAC? The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee said there is new momentum for Congress to approve a new round of military base closures.

"The notion that this was completely unacceptable which existed about a year ago is not there anymore amongst my fellow members," Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said Thursday during a Defense Writers Group breakfast.

Senior members, including Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), are wary of approving a new Base Realignment and Closure Commission [BRAC] because the round that occurred in 2005 ended up costing the Defense Department far more to implement than originally anticipated and only recently has begun to break even.

Smith said the two biggest arguments against BRAC -- that it might not save much money and that savings could be recouped by closing sites overseas -- are on their last legs.

"Both of those arguments are kind of bulls**t," he told reporters.

Smith said members have begun to realize that a new BRAC "would have a small upfront cost and significant long term savings."

Thornberry shares that point of view but "doesn't quite share it enough yet to say that it's still a good idea and is something that we want to do," he said.

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