WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army is working to ensure the cost of the withdrawal from Afghanistan does not negatively impact its readiness and how it shapes its future budgets, top service leaders said at the Defense News Conference on Sept. 8.
“We did not envision Operation Allies Welcome when we submitted the [Program Objective Memorandum for fiscal 20]23,” Army Secretary Christine Wormuth told Defense News. “That said, we’ve been working closely with [the Office of the Secretary of Defense] and Congress to make sure that our costs are covered.”
Operation Allies Welcome is the all-of-government mission to resettle in the U.S. vulnerable Afghans who aided Americans in operations in their home country.
The Army has already been able to secure $400 million in reprogrammed dollars from elsewhere in the defense budget, Wormuth said, and OSD “is in conversation with congressional staff right now looking at another $1 billion in reprogramming.”
While the Army is working diligently to ensure its costs are covered, “as we know from this year, frankly, year-of-execution challenges can be very disruptive,” Wormuth said, noting the example of the U.S. Army National Guard’s response to the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riot, which had “a very big bill attached to that.”
The Pentagon was able to secure supplemental funding from Congress to cover those costs, “but we were concerned about what that could have done for training for the Guard,” Wormuth said.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville added, during the same interview, that he included a $1 billion placeholder for unforeseen direct and enduring war costs and homeland contingency operations in his FY22 unfunded requirements list sent to Congress, as wartime funding is no longer separate from base budget funding.
In his wish list, McConville said that the end of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel at the end of FY21 would not result in immediate cost savings and that the Army would need an additional $470.4 million to cover potential enduring and direct war costs.
The service would like an additional $570 million to support homeland contingency operations, which could not be supported by the Army’s top funding line of $173 billion in FY22 as well, according to the list.
The whole FY22 Army budget request is a $3.6 billion reduction from what was approved by Congress in FY21.
The need for additional wartime and homeland contingency funding is necessary, McConville said, because “we identify some contingency cost requirements for both domestic and global, we’ve seen that every single year … We have wildfires, we have storms, we have National Guard commitments and these are very difficult to anticipate a couple of years ahead and it’s the same thing overseas.”
The 82nd Airborne Division deploying to Kabul to help with the withdrawal is a prime example of that, he added.
“Our troops are going to go where they need to go,” McConville said.
The Army has also been “very careful,” Wormuth said, “to make sure that we manage our ability to maintain our readiness, even as we provide all the support to the safe havens as part of Operation Allies Welcome, so I’m happy to report that we’re not going to see a negative impact on readiness.”
The service is working to ensure that it is rotating troops supporting the different safe havens at various installations around the country, she noted.
“We’re confident we’re going to be able to manage this, even as we, of course, work closely with [the Department of Homeland Security], as the lead federal agency, to make sure that the mission doesn’t continue on for a very long period of time,” Wormuth said.
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.