WASHINGTON and MINOT AFB — Defense Secretary Ash Carter plans to present Congress with a request for a supplemental spending measure to fund US troops in Afghanistan come November, he said Monday.
However, Carter would not give a sense of how large the monetary request may be, saying only that there is a "range" that the department's budgetary experts are considering.
"We have a range. We're going to refine it. And they'll get a refined number when [Congress members] return in November, hopefully to pass a budget for the federal government," Carter told reporters during a visit to Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.
President Barack Obama in July announced plans to leave 8,400 service members in Afghanistan through the end of the year, rather than the 5,500 that were initially budgeted for fiscal year 2017.
A Taliban resurgence forced the White House to rethink its strategy, though Army Gen. John Nicholson, the top US commander in Afghanistan, said last week the Taliban have control over 10 percent of Afghanistan’s population.
Nicholson made an appearance on Capitol Hill last week said to include a meeting with Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain.
Ahead of Carter and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford’s appearance before McCain’s committee last week, McCain said he anticipated they would request Congress pass a supplemental spending measure for Iraq and Syria — in addition to Afghanistan. The matter did not come up in the hearing, however.
"It’s primarily a regular update, but they say they’re going to have to come to Congress with a supplemental for other activities in Iraq and Syria," said McCain, R-Ariz.
"There’s more than Afghanistan; all I know is what they’re saying is they would have to have additional funds for their military buildup for both Iraq and Syria," McCain added.
As defense appropriations are likely to play into hotly anticipated federal budget negotiations on Capitol Hill, the Obama administration has said little about a supplemental for troops in Afghanistan.
"I don’t have any early word on what that might be; We’ll have to wait and see," Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss., said last week.
Carter emphasized that the need for the supplemental was because the Obama administration sees a chance to strike a major blow against militant forces in Afghanistan and wants to take advantage of that opportunity.
"It actually reflects a good thing, which is we are seizing upon opportunity to destroy ISIL and Syria in Iraq, therefore to hasten that; and we’re seeing opportunities to strengthen what we’ve long been embarked on in Afghanistan with Operation Resolute Support, with our coalition partners there," Carter said. "So this reflects the seizing of opportunities by the president, opportunities which are good for us."
He also used the opportunity to call on Congress to pass a budget, noting that the fiscal year ends in just a few days.
"The date is the 26
of September now. For the eighth consecutive year in the row, the fiscal year is coming to an end without a federal budget. So I would be grateful, come November, not only for approval of an adjusted OCO budget but for approval of the budget of the federal government," Carter said.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.