The commander of U.S. Special Operations Command said Tuesday that his unit's budget would lose $1 billion this year as a result of the defense budget stalemate in Washington.
During an annual National Defense Industrial Association conference for special operators, Navy Adm. William McRaven noted that the Defense Department is operating on a continuing resolution, which limits spending to 2012 levels, even as automatic, across-the-board spending cuts called sequestration are set to begin March 1.
"The continuing resolution … in all honesty puts a greater constraint on us than sequester … That means we've lost about a billion dollars of spending capacity," Adm. McRaven said.
The continuing resolution will expire March 27. Congress must extend the resolution or pass a 2013 defense appropriations bill to fund military operations after March 27.
In addition, if Congress does not reach a budget deal by March 1, sequestration will begin trimming more than $1 trillion from the federal budget over the next decade. The Pentagon would have to reduce its spending by about $500 billion over the next 10 years.
"We don't know what sequestration's going to look like," Adm. McRaven said. "It's going to be an additional bill …"
Despite a reduced budget, Special Operations Command must maintain a global presence to deal with conflict in places such as Mali, he said. Part of that effort will be to better integrate special operations forces with conventional forces within each global combatant command, such U.S. Africa Command.
"What we have learned in working around the world: You have to have that persistent presence," said Adm. McRaven, the Navy's top SEAL.
"It has always been difficult for us in some countries to have a persistent presences, and Mali's a case in point. We've had an episodic presence," he said, adding that he wasn't sure whether a more sustained presence in the West African would have made a big difference.
Islamist extremists captured huge swaths of Mali amid the chaos following a coup last year by Malian troops. French and Malian forces have been advancing on Islamist fighters over past two weeks.
According to a senior Pentagon official, the Defense Department is aiming to maintain a deployed special operations force of about 10,000 troops amid budget cuts. Around this time last year, about 12,000 special operations forces were deployed, about 9,000 of them in Afghanistan.
"The force has grown exponentially since 2001. And we've come to the point where the, sort of, open checkbook for [special operations forces is] behind us," said Garry Reid, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations/low-intensity conflict.
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