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Joint Hearing of Air and Land Forces Subcommittee and the Readiness Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee - The Readiness Decline of the Army, Marine Corps, National Guard and Reserves and the Implications for National Security

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Location: Washington, DC


Joint Hearing of Air and Land Forces Subcommittee and the Readiness Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee - The Readiness Decline of the Army, Marine Corps, National Guard and Reserves and the Implications for National Security

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REP. NEIL ABERCROMBIE (D-HI): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. To our witnesses, I hope you don't feel it's unfair that we're making these opening remarks just at the time the buzzer is going -- the bell is going off.

The reason for it is, I think it's important as we receive your testimony, for you to have the context within which we're operating in our decision making, because I think it will help us -- rather help you to help us understand where we need to go.

I'm especially appreciative of Mr. Forbes' commentary, because I reach a different conclusion from that commentary than he does about whether or not the resolution is premature.

We suffer from some very great difficulty here on the committee. People like Mr. Forbes knows what he talking about. People on the committee, by definition, are consumed with the subject matter that's in front of us.

The sad reality is, is that many of our colleagues, let alone many of -- most of the people in the United States are unaware of the circumstances that we're dealing with here today, and unaware of the subject matter that you'll be discussing in your various presentations.

One of the reasons I believe that we do need to have this resolution is not because we don't know it, or that we're not aware of what's involved in the regular budget -- regular order budget process or the supplemental budgets that have become part and parcel of our response where defense is concerned, but that most people don't know, we want to pass this resolution or get this resolution forward to inform our colleagues, the rest of the Congress and by extension the country, as to why we're doing what we're doing, what we need to do, and more particularly from my point of view, get away from these supplemental budgets.

The very things that my good friend Mr. Forbes cited are what we should be taking up in the regular order of the budget process and the regular order of the authorization.

Think about it; the long-lead items, building strategic reserves, ground combat vehicles, building the necessary air carriers that we need to have, growing the force, the failure of the Congress to act on the supplemental for over a year now.

You can't depend on the supplemental budget, you can't become -- start mixing up the regular budget order, the regular Department of Defense authorization act that leads to appropriations and become dependant on a supplemental budget which may or may not get presented.

We don't know when it's going to be presented, we don't know how it's going to be presented, we don't know what other items or elements will come into it in the course of its presentation, we don't know when it's going to pass and yet we're talking about strategic elements such as I've just mentioned and such as Mr. Forbes outlined, being dependent on as undependable a process as a supplemental budget.

We need to have a readiness resolution out there that -- in my judgment -- that can explain to our colleagues and explain to the American people what's at stake and why we're doing what we're doing.

And I have a further -- a comment, Mr. Chairman, that I would like to enter into the record, which outlines essentially what you have said and what Mr. Forbes has said, reiterating it and possibly adding some detail, but with your permission I'd like to put it --

REP. ORTIZ: I hear no objection, so ordered. The rest of your statement will be submitted for the record.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: And I just want to echo the Chairman's remarks that we did not plan on having this vote take place, as it is right now, and it probably will be 40 minutes, and I'm not quite sure how we're going to work it now.

I would like very much to hear this, the witnesses.

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REP. ABERCROMBIE: Mr. Chairman, excuse me. Mr. Chairman, just for a point of clarification, so that we stay on track here.

Prior to September 11th, the Navy operated at an entirely different deployment cycle.

Mr. Donnelly, you're shaking your head. Maybe you would like to comment on it.

I don't want to start, in a sense, arguments about this, but if the argument is going to be that the readiness resolution in front of us is deficient, at least we ought to have our -- we ought to be comparing apples to apples, is what I'm driving at.

Now, what I mean by that -- and not so much in response to Mr. Forbes, but to make sure that we're on the same page, apples to apples, you had a much different -- you had a different deployment cycle. You had a 2-year cycle and an 18-month preparation.

Then they changed now to exactly what Mr. Korb says it is, which is the 3 carriers in 30 days. But that wasn't because the 3 carriers in 30 days is now what it should have been prior to September 11th, and wasn't.

It was an entirely different basis of deployment specifications prior to September 11th. I believe that's accurate.

I -- you seem to be knowledgeable, Mr. Donnelly, am I stating it correctly? I think I am.

MR. DONNELLY: Mr. Abercrombie, I would agree with you and as I said in my (laughs) opening statement, the Army has likewise changed its fourth-generation model.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Yeah.

MR. DONNELLY: So comparing apples to apples through the years it is much more difficult than it used to be.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Yeah.

MR. DONNELLY: Ultimately, I would say this is an infinitely regressive change that isn't very helpful, and that -- and I would say also that there has always been commander's discretion in certifying --

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Yes.

MR. DONNELLY: -- units to be ready. So we ought to deal with the statistics as they present themselves; that's not an opinion as to whether there should have been -- or not

REP. ABERCROMBIE: I appreciate and I don't want to take further time on it. I just want to make sure that we don't operate at cross- purposes.

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REP. ABERCROMBIE: Thank you.

I'm not quite sure of why we're at the stage where we're having an argument about readiness per se.

The question is more -- I think, and part of the motivation for the resolution that's in front of us today is to try to get information out and perspective on it, particularly as the result of this supplemental question.

It's easy to say that one should have a clean supplemental, the -- but by definition if it's an emergency supplemental though it's going to take whatever comes along, you can't change the rules of the Congress.

And what constitutes something clean I'm not quite sure. We just passed a resolution over on the floor while we were away, that says we can't do any business with any country that does business with Iran.

Iraq does business with Iran.

So presumably, we're not going to do any business with them. So that the overall level of what are, in other contexts might be frivolousness, or whether --- well, something so serious as this, to be taking that kind of an attitude seems to me at best dysfunctional and at the worst it's a mockery of the troops serving in the field.

It leads me back to where I think we should be, which is can we get across the idea that we have a readiness question that has to be addressed.

So I say -- promise you, Mr. Donnelly, that I would pick on you as soon as I as could in -- as recompense for walking out on you when you were about to talk. And I wonder if you could comment -- let me just, let me go directly to your testimony.

If you'll forgive me, I had it right here. I lost my page. Yes, you said, it's one of your prefaces, the challenge -- "To understand the challenges our land forces now face, we must look back to the years of the Cold War period."

And then you cited two insights, which you attributed to Secretary Rumsfeld, one is the state of international politics and the conclusion of the early 21st century was a period of strategic costs, and that said, you would then -- went further on, "In the initial post-9/11 operations, most notably the invasion of Afghanistan" -- you were talking about special operation forces.

I wonder if you could comment then on where you see -- do you see a connection between readiness as outlined in the resolution and the capacity to be able to deal effectively militarily -- now, setting aside, if you can, the politics in Afghanistan, and what you think that that would entail in order to accomplish readiness as we understand it by Army standards, which is your C1, (C)2, (C)3, (C)4.

And that's a -- it's a pretty big order, but it follows from -- which -- I appreciate the way you put your testimony, because it led us up in a --- not a theoretic, but in a doctrinal basis, if you will, to where we are. Is that a fair summary of what you were saying?

MR. DONNELLY: Yes, sir, I think it is. And I think it is important for us to focus on what we have done on -- what the actual mission now is in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, too much of our debate about Afghanistan pretends as though that's actually the central front in the al Qaeda war in terms of tracking down the al Qaeda senior leadership.

In Afghanistan today there's really actually very little al Qaeda presence and so it's a less counter-terror operation than it is a classic counterinsurgency operation. And so the kinds of forces that are demanded are really kind of at the opposite end of the spectrum of those that were so effective during the initial invasion.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Let me just -- let me add parenthetically, while you're at it -- you understand why I'm asking, because we tend to get focused on Iraq and we're talking about readiness here, as a general proposition for the Army. That's why I value what you had to say.

MR. DONNELLY: I agree, and unfortunately, so much of the mission in Afghanistan that is so critical at the moment are in those areas where our NATO partners have a lead rather than U.S. forces. Actually things are going relatively well in the U.S. sector, and as everybody is aware, the deployment of the Marine expeditionary unit to Kandahar is a response to try to cover those areas that aren't getting adequate attention.

But we shouldn't mislead ourselves about what the nature of the mission is, it's not really -- primarily a counterterrorism mission, but in broadly similar terms to the mission in Iraq, it's another long-duration -- at least as I understand it -- counterinsurgency mission that's going to tax the general purpose forces, the conventional formations of the U.S. Army.

And so again -- to echo what Michele Flournoy said, even if force levels in Iraq are reduced for whatever reason in the future, my prediction would be that the demand for forces in Afghanistan will remain constant, if not, it does not grow, but again it's not an al Qaeda mission it's a counterinsurgency mission.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: If I can follow-up on that with you then because that's what my concern -- I have no problem with a supplemental -- about given what we've done. I have a problem with why we're the -- why we're at --- well, why we are where we are.

We shouldn't have done this in the first place. You know, just for purposes of the record I'll state, although many of the members of this committee know I put an amendment one time to actually pay for the war in Iraq and I was defeated with the idea that well, we'll take that up in the supplemental budget, we've been paying for the war in the supplemental budget.

That's why I'm opposed to it and that's why we got the readiness thing here. I don't want to get into an argument -- I hope I don't -- about what the real resolution should be or not be. Every resolution is as worthy as what it says, the reason this resolutions is here is because I'm trying to get to the question the fundamentals behind the question of supplementary budgets having to make up for what we didn't do.

And that's -- everybody has got a stain on them with --- in that respect, every administration and every Congress has done it, no matter who's been in charge.

What we're trying to do is act in a responsible way here to deal with the fundamental readiness questions that transcend where we are the moment that we have to make up for. I'll be happy to vote for a supplemental budget that takes care, if it's -- you want to deal --- we want to talk about clean resolution then I don't want anything in it about paying for the war that we should be paying for anyway.

But if you put in a resolution that deals with the ongoing readiness questions that helps us with reset and so on, I will do it. I'll sign on in a second, but I'm not going keep paying --- putting in -- voting for supplement budgets or supplemental resolutions or however the hell we characterize them that keep on paying for the same mistakes and keep on rewarding people for doing the same thing over and over again.

Now, in that context, you see, my greatest concern is that in an attempt to relieve the stresses and strain on the Army and Marine Corps, we would attempt to fit the war to the size of the force rather than sizing the force to win the war.

Now, in that context then, and in the context of the answer that you just gave, could you comment a little bit further on what you think it would take to enable us to continue in Afghanistan at this present time without getting lost in the weeds of a -- of surge policy or whatever the hell else we're talking about in Iraq?

MR. DONNELLY: I will do my best. And based on the -- an exercise that we ran fairly recently at AEI and based on my understanding of what General McNeill's requirement is and based further on the ways in which the NATO command needs to be supplemented in Afghanistan, I think the minimum of requirement for Afghanistan is an additional three American brigade combat teams or equivalents, be they Marine, RCTs, regimental combats units or army brigades.

So I think in order to not only sustain the progress in the East Sector that we have the responsibility for, but to make more rapid progress in Helmand and Kandahar in the South Sector particularly with a view towards securing the elections that are supposed to take place in 2009 and 2010, which are crucial for progress in Afghanistan, that's, I think, a generally agreed estimate of what the minimum requirement is.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: Okay. I'll conclude, because I'm afraid we've got, perhaps, another vote. I take your points on the question of the fundamental integrity of the military as a whole threatening the broad national security of the United Stated if the -- if -- I did not think that the resolution had that implication. I'm sorry that you felt that you had to use the work "egregious" with it.

I assure that that's -- that certainly is not the intent of Mr. Ortiz or myself to do anything, which is egregious in this context. It's too serious a matter but if that is an interpretation that could reasonably be withdrawn, we will take another look at it and try to remove that, I can assure you.

MR. DONNELLY: As a former staffer I appreciate your willingness to consider diverse judgments. It was not an assessment of the intent of the resolution, but I think it is an inadequate description of the state of the force.

REP. ABERCROMBIE: All right. Then, we'll take that into account, because the kind of recommendations that you're making right there is what we're trying to get at, that's the idea behind the resolution.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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