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Senate Appropriations Committee- Defense (Budget Request)

Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, United States Senate, Thursday, March 25, 2010

Mr. Chairman, Vice Chairman Cochran, and members of the committee. 

Thank you for the opportunity this afternoon to discuss the Defense Department’s portion of the Fiscal Year 2010 supplemental request.

I am honored to appear with the Secretary of State.  Our joint testimony today reflects the close cooperation of our two departments, and the importance of a properly funded and integrated civil-military approach to the challenges we face in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world.  And at the outset, I would like to offer my strong support for the important programs funded in the State portion of the supplemental request, without which our military efforts will not be successful. 

These times of economic and fiscal stress place enormous pressure on all of us to be good stewards of taxpayer’s dollars – including the two departments represented here today.  That is why President Obama and I – in last year’s and this year’s budget – made tough decisions about major programs that were either performing poorly or in excess to real world needs.  However, even at a time of budget pressures, I believe it is critical to sustain an adequate, sustainable level of investment in the instruments of national security – be it defense, diplomacy, or development – that are so essential to America’s security and position in the world.

I recently returned from a visit to Afghanistan.  There, I had the chance to talk to our military commanders, Afghanistan’s leaders, and our troops serving at the tip of the spear in Kandahar and Helmand provinces.  Overall, I believe there are grounds for guarded optimism as our campaign to roll back the Taliban gains momentum, and as the Afghan government shows an increasing willingness to take on additional responsibilities.  Nonetheless, there will be many long and tough days ahead.  And it may take several months to produce visible results, as most of the additional forces ordered by the President have not yet arrived in theater and begun operations.

I would also caution against an overly ambitious view of what true stability and security will look like in a place that has known nothing but war for three decades.  For most Afghans, a roof over their heads, an opportunity for their children – both boys and girls – to attend school, and the ability to provide for the basic needs of their families free from violence would be considered a pretty good life.  The scale of the international coalition’s efforts and ambitions should reflect that basic reality.

The FY 2010 supplemental request totals $33 billion for the Defense Department, almost all of which is to support operations in Afghanistan and the additional 30,000 troops being deployed as part of the President's strategy announced in December.  We remain on schedule to see overall U.S. troop levels reach 98,000 by the end of the fiscal year.

The request includes $1.1 billion – on top of the $11.3 billion already enacted – to field and sustain lifesaving mine resistant ambush protected vehicles and the MRAP-all terrain vehicles for troops already in theater and for the additional forces being deployed.

Finally, this supplemental contains $2.6 billion to strengthen the Afghan National Security Forces.  The goal of the President’s strategy and our supporting military efforts is to create conditions that will allow for a full transfer of security responsibility to the Afghan government.  Earlier this month, I visited the Combined Fielding Center at Camp Blackhorse near Kabul and had a chance to speak with Afghan troops undergoing training.  I told them that Afghanistan is their country, and ultimately this is their fight to win.  I know many of you have concerns about the Afghan security forces.  I share those concerns – as do our military commanders.  The Afghan army has made real progress over the last year and many Afghan soldiers are shedding their blood for their country.  Increased Afghan involvement in operations is critical to success, and is being demonstrated in Marjah.  Significant work remains to be done with the police force, but there, too, changes are underway that will, I believe, yield progress.  As you consider this request, I would emphasize that successfully accomplishing the training mission represents both our exit strategy and the key for long-term stability in Afghanistan.

The supplemental request also includes $1 billion to strengthen Iraqi security forces.  These additional resources will be used this year to strengthen Iraqi capabilities in areas General Odierno believes are important to ensure that the Iraqis are fully prepared to assume internal security responsibilities.  The money will be spent by U.S. forces in Iraq, not provided directly to the government of Iraq. 

In Haiti, as the President requested, the Department is providing continuing support in the wake of January’s earthquake.  Due to the urgent need for an immediate response, the Department used funds from existing accounts, with the understanding that these accounts would be replenished in a supplemental.  As such, the $655 million dollars is part of an amendment for Haiti that was recently submitted to Congress and will include funding to cover these costs.

All of these operations are fuel intensive.  Due to rising prices, our fuel cost this year in operations has been greater than anticipated.  And so, included in this request is $2 billion to partially offset the resulting shortfall in the Department’s base and overseas contingency operations operating accounts and to ensure uninterrupted operations.

I should note that this Department has moved most funding for programs not directly related to the war into the base budget.  The budget request being discussed today is a true supplemental as they were originally intended, for the purposes of funding immediate and unforeseen requirements – in this case, primarily the troop surge associated with the president’s new strategy for Afghanistan.  And I urge approval of this request by early spring to prevent costly and counterproductive disruptions to the Department’s operations. 

Before closing, I’d like to say just a few words about the Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP), which continues to be a powerful tool for military commanders in carrying out counterinsurgency operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  General Petraeus has called it his “most important authority,” and I would urge the Congress to fully fund the CERP programs contained in the Department’s budget requests. 

Having said that, I understand there is some concern on this committee about the way CERP has been used in recent years.  The Department is currently performing an internal assessment of existing processes, which includes consideration of a single departmental coordinator, additional dedicated CERP managers and contracting personnel in theater, and increased pre-mobilization and in-country training.  Nonetheless, even with improved execution and oversight, it is unrealistic to expect a tool like CERP – whose very effectiveness and existence is tied to its flexibility and the discretion granted to local commanders in a war zone – to attain a zero-defect standard.

In conclusion, I’d like to thank the committee for your support of the men and women of the military – extraordinary Americans who have fought our nation’s wars, responded to natural disasters, and protected our interests around the world.  I know their health, safety, and welfare will be your top priority in making these difficult decisions in the weeks ahead.  Thank you.

 

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