WASHINGTON — The chief of U.S Transportation Command told Congress Tuesday that cuts in defense spending triggered by the budget sequester should not have an impact on the withdrawal of U.S. troops and materiel from Afghanistan, but may have other “unintended” consequences.
Air Force Gen. William Fraser III told members of the House Armed Services Committee that bringing equipment and personnel home from Afghanistan as part of a planned drawdown over the coming months is a concern because of the impact of $46 billion in defense cuts triggered by the sequester.
However, Fraser said, “There has been direction by the department to ensure that the resources are there which should cover the retrograde that we’re talking about.”
Apart from the impact of sequestration, the ability to withdraw troops and equipment from landlocked Afghanistan, where the U.S.-led NATO mission is set to expire at the end of next year, has been a concern, given the history of the country’s border with Pakistan, through which much of the materiel is expected to transit.
For months last year, the Pakistani government closed overland routes into Afghanistan in response to a cross-border attack by NATO forces in November 2011 that accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
During questioning, Fraser told lawmakers he concluded a visit to Pakistan last month “encouraged” about the border situation.
“We’re going to continue to ramp up,” he told legislators, and that “everything seems to be moving in the right direction with lots of different lanes … and that we do have the resources.”
However, Fraser was less sanguine about the impact the budget sequester will have on the military in general.
“The lack of budget certainty right now is going to have an unintended consequence on our command,” he said, especially for commercial partners who contract with Transcom.
The military budget situation also raises a readiness issue, he added, by increasing “our risk in the future to respond in a very timely manner.”
Based at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, Transcom oversees the Defense Department’s global air, land and sea transportation and distribution enterprise, providing the military with global mobility.