Pentagon chief wants excess bases closed, but warns cuts put ‘troops at greater risk’

Pentagon chief wants excess bases closed, but warns cuts put ‘troops at greater risk’
Making their plea to Congress, top Pentagon officials testified that the military budget must be increased beyond the $639 billion requested by President Donald Trump.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis joined Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine General Joseph Dunford and Pentagon comptroller David Norquist to urge Congress to grow defense spending on Monday, during a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee.

Mattis castigated the legislative branch, saying, “Congress has sidelined itself from its active constitutional role” for having failed to repeal an important law that limits what can be spent in the military budget, according to the Associated Press.

“It has blocked new programs, prevented service growth, stalled industry initiative and placed troops at greater risk,” Mattis added.

Despite lamenting the cuts in the rate of automatic spending increases imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011, Mattis is looking to close the bulk of excess military bases, starting in 2021.

READ MORE: Winners & losers in Trump’s $603bn national security budget

“The department currently has more infrastructure capacity than required for operations,” Mattis told the panel.

The committee meeting on Monday was the first of four congressional hearings on the defense budget. Mattis urged lawmakers to start a full year of funding to stay clear of “yet another harmful continuing resolution,” whereby the spending limits would remain enforced.

Mattis is expected to face pushback from key lawmakers, such as Representative Kay Granger (R-Texas), who leads the House Appropriations Sub-Committee, the same one that will listen to Mattis’ appeal for closures to US military bases around the globe.

Granger, who went on the record last month, said she would support the plan as long as there is evidence presented to show how money was saved from previous points ranging from the late 1980s into the 1990s.

“I’ve never seen it save money,” Granger said. “Show me the savings.”

Mattis did not hold back in naming specific items on which the money would be spent.

“We forecast that a properly focused base closure effort will generate $2 billion or more annually over a five year period, enough to buy 300 Apache attack helicopters, 120 F/A 18-E/F Super Hornets, or four Virginia-class submarines,” Mattis said.

Also, on Monday, Mattis said he would recommend options to Trump “very soon” for a strategy to end the stalemate in Afghanistan.

The country was recently hit with its deadliest attack in Kabul last month when a truck bomb went off, killing 150 people. Mattis mentioned that the strategy would have to be looked at in terms of taking a regional approach.