Washington, D.C. – Congressman Adam Smith, Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee, made the following opening statement at the hearing on Fiscal Year 2015 OCO Budget Request:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I would like to thank our witnesses for appearing here today to discuss this important subject.
The proposed Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) budget request presented to us today contains important funds to help complete our mission in Afghanistan. Although we are finally drawing down our troop levels in that war, our involvement in Afghanistan is not going to come to an end in the near future. The Afghan National Security Forces will require our support for many years to come. Our counterterrorism forces will almost certainly be pursuing the remnants of those who carried out the attacks of September 11th in Afghanistan and Pakistan for the next several years. We must support these continuing efforts to bring to justice those who attacked us and to prevent them from reestablishing safe havens in that region.
There are other parts of the OCO request, specifically the Combating Terrorism Partnership Fund (CTPF) and the European Reassurance Initiative that need to be explained in considerable more detail. Most members of Congress are broadly supportive of building the capacity of our international partners and understand the necessity of providing a fair amount of flexibility to the Department to carry out these activities. Nonetheless, the legislative proposal for the CTPF the Department submitted to the Congress can fairly be described as unconstrained—it is written so that it could be used for almost anything the Department does, up to and including refueling an aircraft carrier while circumventing all the normal reprogramming and transfer rules.
Part of the CTPF is intended to provide for the training and equipping of moderate Syrian rebels. I am firmly in the camp of supporting this effort. No matter what happens in Syria, whether Assad wins, or the rebels win, or it stays as a violent stalemate, we will need friends there. And even if Assad won the war, he would not be able to reestablish control over the entire country, meaning ISIL and the Al Nusra Front and other extremist terrorist groups would seek a safe haven in the ungoverned spaces. We will need to build up friendly forces to hedge against that scenario. Nonetheless, I realize that other members here today have other views on this subject and that we need to proceed cautiously. So I hope the witnesses can take some time to address this request and walk through the strategic rationale for it, how it’s related to the regional problems we see in Iraq and Jordan and Lebanon, as well as discuss as many specifics about the program as they can in the forum.
The European Reassurance Initiative (ERI) also needs to be fleshed out. Russia’s actions to seize the Crimean peninsula and its ongoing actions in Ukraine have reemphasized the potential threat that our NATO allies could face in Europe. While many in Congress had hoped that we could take peace in Europe for granted, that may no longer be possible, and so it makes perfect sense to consider how we should best respond. But at the same time DOD is requesting an additional $925 million for actions to reassure our European allies, we continue to close facilities there—on the surface, this seems to be a mixed message. What sort of reassurance are the NATO and Eastern European allies looking for—additional training opportunities or an American presence that would deter Russia? And what are we willing to provide and for how long? ERI funds would be available for two years—then what?
For the past couple of years, the House Armed Services Committee has noted in the report accompanying our version of the NDAA that large parts of the U.S. presence in the Middle East are paid for out of the OCO budget, presumably on the theory that many of these bases and assets have partly supported Afghanistan. But these bases and assets are used for far more than just Afghanistan and are unlikely to decrease substantially in size no matter what happens in Afghanistan. I am supportive of this presence in the Gulf and believe we need to be there to deter Iran and to be able to work closely with our regional allies. But funding this mission through the OCO, on top of the request for funds in Europe and even the train and equip mission for Syria, raises the question of the future of the OCO.
In the past, OCO funding was restricted to, more or less, things related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That rule, looking at some of these requests and some of the proposed uses of “in-theater support” funds, clearly no longer applies. Both the ERI and the CTPF could be used for the general procurement of equipment—even in the justification materials provided by DOD, one possible use would be buying helicopters for SOCOM for general “crisis response”. We just passed an NDAA out of the House that included funds for just these sorts of purposes. So it raises the question, where did this request and others like it come from? Did they arise in the time since the President submitted his budget request? If the Department sent over these requests with the intent to use OCO to ease the pain of sequestration, I can totally understand that. Personally, I would vastly prefer if this House would just vote to repeal sequestration entirely even if we can’t come up with a rational “all of the above” fix to our budget problems, but we have not behaved responsibly on this subject for quite a while and there is little prospect of that changing in the near future. But if the case is otherwise, if we have new urgent purposes for these emergency funds, I hope our witnesses can help explain them here today for us and the American people.
Again, I would like to thank the witnesses for appearing today. I yield back my time.