President Obama has vowed to lead the charge to defeat ISIS and other terrorists – and has included $5.3 billion in his proposed fiscal 2016 budget to continue airstrikes in the Middle East and to train and equip so-called moderate Syrian rebels to wage ground war against jihadist terrorists.
Yet the $51 billion he requested Monday for waging war overseas in the coming year marks a substantial decline in spending for ongoing missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to the administration’s budget document. The new request for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding is $13 billion less that what was enacted in 2015 – or a 21 percent reduction.
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The substantial decrease in requested war spending is part of a long-term trend to curtail overseas military spending as the U.S. pulled back most of its ground troops in Afghanistan and downsized a residual force of combat troops in Iraq in the ongoing fight against ISIS and the effort to prop up the Iraqi government.
Spelling out an end to America's longest war, Obama last May announced plans for keeping nearly 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014, but then withdrawing virtually all by the end of 2016. Meanwhile, last November Obama authorized deploying an additional 1,500 American troops to Iraq in the coming months, doubling the number of Americans meant to train and advise Iraqi and Kurdish forces.
The budget document, in defending the proposed spending reduction, says, “It provides the funding needed to combat diverse terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL); to ensure a responsible transition in Afghanistan, where the United States and international partners will train, advise, and assist Afghan-led operations; and to counter Russia’s aggressive actions and reassure allies and partners in Europe.”
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It added, “The OCO budget includes certain costs that will endure past these current contingencies, and thus the budget proposes to transition enduring OCO costs to the base budget” in future years.
Whether congressional Republicans will buy into the plan to scale back remains to be seen. Some, including the new Senate Armed Services Committee Chair John McCain of Arizona, have argued that the president isn’t devoting nearly enough resources and funding to taking on ISIS and other terrorist groups.
Even as Obama tries to bring down spending for overseas military actions, he is proposing an overall increase in the Defense Department’s budget for the coming year.
His new defense budget proposal, as expected, would breach the Pentagon’s legal spending caps by $35 billion and provide for a total of $585 billion of defense spending in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
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Those funds would cover a base budget of about $534 billion for general military operations and salaries and the $50.9 billion more for the ongoing military missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This is the second year in a row that President Obama has sought to lift spending caps under the Budget Control Act of 2011 – and he’s sure to get substantial support from many Republican and some Democratic lawmakers.
If the caps were left in place, defense spending would be limited to $500 billion – meaning Congress would have to cut the Pentagon’s budget by about $34 billion. The last time the Pentagon had a budget above $585 billion was 2012, when defense spending topped $645 billion.
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