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Opening Summary -- House Armed Services Committee (Overseas Contingency Operations Budget Request)

Chairman McKeon, Ranking Member Smith, we very much appreciate the opportunity to be here this morning.  On behalf of Secretary Chuck Hagel, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, and the men and women in uniform we serve, we want to thank this committee for your continued support of our troops who every day are conducting operations on behalf of our nation’s security in very volatile, complex, and dangerous parts of the world. 

It is with those ongoing operations in mind, that I want to address the Fiscal Year 2015 Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) request of $58.6 billion, which the President recently submitted to Congress.  This request is $26.7 billion – or about one third less than the $85.3 billion enacted by Congress for OCO in the current fiscal year.  It is $100 billion less than the $159 billion OCO request from just four years ago.  The request reflects a continued, downward trajectory of war-related spending as we conclude our combat mission in Afghanistan after 13 years of war.  However, even as the war ends, the Department will continue to seek OCO funding to cover the costs of returning, repairing, and replacing equipment until that process is complete, and costs associated with our broader military presence in the Middle East from which we support a number of critical missions in the region, as well as unforeseen contingencies.

The requested funds for FY 2015 would provide $53.4 billion for OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM (OEF).  This funding will support the responsible drawdown of forces in Afghanistan as announced by the President.  It will provide for continued support and assistance to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and coalition partners.  It will pay for the retrograde of equipment and personnel and the continuing reset of U.S. forces.  It will enable the vast range of support activities, including logistics and intelligence.  And it will support a portion of the temporary Army and Marine Corps end strength that supports OEF.

The FY 2015 OCO request also supports two new Presidential initiatives: $5 billion for the Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund, of which DoD would receive $4 billion; and $1 billion for the European Reassurance Initiative, of which DoD would receive $925 million. 

Before I explain these new initiatives,I would like to briefly touch on three important parts of this OCO request. 

First, our costs in Afghanistan and the greater Middle East region remain substantial.  Even with the end of our combat role in Afghanistan, we will continue to provide critical support for our troops and carry out our ongoing counterterrorism mission there, requiring high-end Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) assets, close air support, force protection, and logistics.  We also must return thousands of pieces of equipment from Afghanistan to home stations and close down hundreds of combat facilities there.  In addition, the FY 2015 OCO request supports other important missions conducted outside Afghanistan, including in the Middle East and Horn of Africa. 

Second, this OCO request will continue to help our military recover and reset from more than a decade of fighting by covering war-related expenses such as repair and replacement of equipment that has been destroyed or damaged in combat or worn out due to prolonged use.  When units return from combat, we must restore them to a condition that allows them to conduct training exercises, achieve required readiness levels, and prepare for future deployments.  This need for equipment reset will continue beyond 2015. 

Finally, this OCO request provides continued support and assistance to the ANSF.  Over the last year, the Afghan forces have demonstrated tactical superiority over the Taliban, have prevented the Taliban from gaining momentum, and demonstrated their professionalism during national elections.  It is critically important that we maintain sufficient financial support and assistance to the ANSF so they can sustain those gains and continue to assume full security responsibility across Afghanistan. 

Let me turn to the two new initiatives included in this year’s OCO request.  President Obama announced the first of these – the Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund (CTPF) – in his commencement address at West Point on May 28.  The $5 billion request for the CTPF includes $4 billion for the Department of Defense.  The overall goal of the CTPF is to increase the ability of partner countries to conduct counterterrorism operations, prevent the proliferation of terrorist threats from neighboring states, and participate in multinational counterterrorism operations, including countering ISIL and other terrorist groups in the region.  We plan to allocate about $2.5 billion for counterterrorism support and $1 billion for the Syria Regional Stabilization Initiative, helping Syria’s neighbors – including Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey.  As part of the Syria Regional Stabilization Initiative, we are seeking $500 million to train and equip appropriately vetted elements of the moderate Syrian armed opposition.  An additional $500 million would be allocated for crisis response. 

The second new initiative – the European Reassurance Initiative (ERI), which the President announced in his June 3rd speech in Warsaw – proposes increases in U.S. military deployments to Europe in the wake of recent developments in Eastern Europe and in Ukraine in particular.  We believe that a temporary increase in rotational U.S. air, land, and sea presence in Europe, especially in Central and Eastern Europe, along with more extensive bilateral and multilateral exercises and training, are necessary and appropriate demonstrations of support to our NATO allies and partners who are deeply concerned by Russia’s occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea and other provocative actions in Ukraine. 

To summarize our OCO budget request for FY 2015, the funds we are requesting will support our troops who are already serving in harm’s way in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the CENTCOM area of operations.  They will support the President’s decision to maintain a U.S. presence in Afghanistan.  And they will fund two new initiatives that are needed to further America’s national security objectives in counterterrorism and European reassurance.  We ask for your support for this request. 

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement.  I welcome your questions.