Pentagon approves transfer of $1.5B to Trump border wall from Afghan forces, other accounts

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanOvernight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Trump nominates Shanahan as Pentagon chief | House panel advances bill to block military funds for border wall | Trump defends Bolton despite differences Graham to support Defense pick he previously declared his ‘adversary’ Bolton held unexpected meeting on Iran with top intel, military advisers at CIA: report MORE has approved the transfer of $1.5 billion from Pentagon coffers — including more than $600 million from an Afghan security forces account — to build more than 120 miles of barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to a Pentagon statement released Friday.

“Today we reprogrammed $1.5 billion toward the construction of more than 120 miles of border barrier without impacting readiness,” Shanahan said in a statement. 

“The funds were culled from a variety of sources, to include unexecuted prior year funds, the suspension of reimbursements to Pakistan, and costs reductions in a series of contracts.”

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The statement adds that the Defense Department “is fully engaged on the crisis along our southwest border,” with more than 4,000 service members and 19 aircraft there supporting the Department of Homeland Services. 

Reuters reported that the transfer would include $604 million from Afghan security forces accounts, with the rest coming from Air Force programs, a chemical demilitarization program, a retirement account and military dollars for Pakistan.

An unnamed U.S. official told the news service that $4.9 billion was appropriated for the security forces for fiscal 2019, and that money was taken from the account as savings in contracts were found.

Following news of the transfer, every Democratic member of the Senate Appropriations Defense subcommittee and the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies slammed the decision in a letter to Shanahan.

The lawmakers worry that the latest reprogramming will come at the expense of the military’s readiness.

“Once again, the Department of Defense has ignored decades of precedent and cooperation with the Congress in carrying out a transfer of funds without regard to any consultation with the Appropriations Committee,” they wrote.  “We are dismayed that the Department has chosen to prioritize a political campaign promise over the disaster relief needs of our service members, given the finite reprogramming authority available.”

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The letter was signed by Democratic Sens. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahySenators sound alarm over looming budget, shutdown battles Five times presidents sparked controversy using executive privilege McConnell eyes end-of-month deadline as disaster aid hits new ‘obstacles’ MORE (Vt.), Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenators sound alarm over looming budget, shutdown battles Overnight Health Care: HHS issues rule requiring drug prices in TV ads | Grassley, Wyden working on plan to cap drug costs in Medicare | Warren to donate money from family behind opioid giant Dem senator calls on McConnell to endorse bipartisan bill to raise smoking age to 21 MORE (Ill.), Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedOvernight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Trump hits Iran with new sanctions amid standoff | Joint Chiefs chair floats longer military presence in Afghanistan | North Korea defends rocket test Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 Senators show deep skepticism on Space Force proposal MORE (R.I.), Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzOvernight Health Care: HHS issues rule requiring drug prices in TV ads | Grassley, Wyden working on plan to cap drug costs in Medicare | Warren to donate money from family behind opioid giant Dem senator calls on McConnell to endorse bipartisan bill to raise smoking age to 21 Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg meets with senators on privacy MORE (Hawaii), Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallOvernight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Trump hits Iran with new sanctions amid standoff | Joint Chiefs chair floats longer military presence in Afghanistan | North Korea defends rocket test Joint Chiefs chair floats longer military presence in Afghanistan Outdated mining law lets industry use and abuse public lands for free MORE (N.M.), Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayA workplace safety solution Anita Hill would be proud of Lobbying world Overnight Health Care: House Dems hold first hearing on ‘Medicare for All’ | Trump urges Dem senator to revive ObamaCare talks | Booming cannabis market puts pressure on FDA MORE (Wash.), Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyIran, Venezuela puts spotlight on Trump adviser John Bolton Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Iran tensions escalate with carrier deployment | Trump floats letting service academy athletes go pro quicker | Venezuela tests Trump, Bolton relationship Tensions with Iran escalate beyond war of words MORE (Conn.), Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinOvernight Health Care: Trump urges Congress to take action on surprise medical bills | New bipartisan drug pricing bill introduced | Trump gambles in push for drug import proposal Booker, Ayanna Pressley introduce bill taking aim at black maternal death rates LGBT lawmakers say nation is ready for gay president MORE (Wis.), Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinSenate panel approves Rosenstein successor Senate Democrats ask Graham to bring Mueller to testify Dems hammer Barr on Mueller MORE (Calif.) and Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterMontana governor Steve Bullock to announce bid for presidency: report Mitch McConnell is not invincible 20 Dems demand no more money for ICE agents, Trump wall MORE (Mont.).

The United States is in the midst of peace talks with the Taliban to negotiate an end to the nearly 18-year war in Afghanistan, but forces are struggling to maintain territory against the militant group as talks drag on.

“It is not reflective of anything related to our commitment … It took less money to meet the policy commitment than we thought,” a second U.S. official told Reuters.

The transfer comes after the Department of Defense in March moved nearly $1 billion from counter-drug funding to pay for President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rips Comey after CNN town hall: ‘He brought the FBI down’ White House says US, China trade talks to continue Friday Giuliani traveling to Ukraine to push for probes that could be ‘very helpful’ to Trump MORE’s border wall. In addition, Trump in February reprogrammed $3.6 billion in military construction funds for the wall as part of his national emergency declaration.

Shanahan told lawmakers on Wednesday that the Army Corps of Engineers is currently on contract to build about 256 miles of barrier.

“How you will see this materialize in the next six months is about 63 new miles of wall will come online, so about half a mile a day will be produced,” Shanahan said during a Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing.

He also noted that there are now about 4,364 U.S. service members at the border, a mix of active-duty and National Guard members.

The administration plans to pull a total of $6.1 billion from Pentagon accounts for border barriers, including $2.5 billion from counter-drug programs and $3.6 billion from military construction funds. 

The reallocation of the funds has angered some lawmakers on Capitol Hill, who have threatened to bar the Pentagon from transferring money in the future.

Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, wrote on Twitter prior to the announcement that the Pentagon “has now reprogrammed 12 times more money to the wall than for repairs at Tyndall [Air Force Base], destroyed by Hurricane Michael. We should put troops first!”

The House Appropriations Committee on Thursday advanced a bill that would prohibit using military construction funds on a border wall.

The prohibition, included in the fiscal 2020 military construction and veterans affairs appropriations bill, would prohibit funds from the 2015 through 2020 fiscal years from being “obligated, expended or used to design, construct, or carry out a project to construct a wall, barrier, fence, or road” along the U.S. southern border.

Pentagon spokesperson Tom Crosson later said in a statement that the Defense Department had notified lawmakers that Shanahan, “after reviewing recommendations from his staff, and the Joint Staff, has agreed to undertake fence replacement on four additional projects in and around Tucson, AZ, and El Centro, TX, totaling 78.25 miles.”

And House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithIran, Venezuela puts spotlight on Trump adviser John Bolton The importance of intercontinental ballistic missiles to nuclear defense Trump team spurns Adam Smith with its trade stance MORE (D-Wash.) told Shanahan during a panel hearing in March that the Pentagon would likely lose the reprogramming authority if it moved forward with the $1 billion funding transfer.

The Pentagon has yet to use military construction dollars on the wall, though it has already drawn up contracts to be paid by the $1 billion from the counter-drug accounts. 

—Updated at 4:28 p.m.

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