- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Wednesday the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq will be ready to begin the long-awaited assault on Islamic State’s base in Mosul by June, but warned lawmakers that proposed Capitol Hill cuts to the Pentagon’s budget could undermine that effort and other operations worldwide.

Mr. Carter said Iraqi forces backed by American air power successfully cut off the terror group’s main supply route to the north of Mosul, and now were moving into position to begin isolating fighters from Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, occupying the city.

“Some of those are [Iraqi] forces coming from the south, some of them are two brigades of [Kurdish] peshmerga coming from the north,” Mr. Carter told members of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Pentagon’s budget on Wednesday.

Those forces are expected to be in position before the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which starts June 6.

American commanders in Iraq also expect to have the group’s main supply lines south of Mosul cut off by the time the Iraqi and Kurdish forces are in position, Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Col. Steve Warren said Wednesday in Baghdad.

Col. Warren declined to comment on the timing of any assault to retake Iraq’s second-largest city. But the operation will be a massive undertaking, requiring between seven and 10 Iraqi Army brigades, or 25,000 troops, the U.S. spokesman said. The White House anticipates Mosul to be back in Iraqi control by the end of this year.

But Mr. Carter warned that an effort by House Republicans to cut the Pentagon’s war funds by $18 billion this fiscal year could put any American-backed offensive in Iraq or in Syria — where 250 U.S. special operations forces and military advisers are heading to coordinate efforts to retake Islamic State’s capital of Raqqa — at risk.

Any effort to reduce war funding with two major anti-Islamic State operations looming is “gambling with war-fighting money [during] a time of war,” Mr. Carter told Senate appropriators Wednesday.

“Proposing to cut off our troops’ funding [in] places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria in the middle of the year … [to] spend money on things that are not [the Pentagon‘s] highest unfunded priorities” would imperil U.S. troops with little to no benefit to the department’s bottom line, Mr. Carter said.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry is leading the charge to trim the military’s war funds from the Pentagon’s $583 billion budget proposal for fiscal year 2017.

The Texas Republican and his backers in the House want to shift the $18 billion into the Pentagon’s procurement accounts, allowing department officials to purchase a slew of new equipment, including additional F-35 Lightning II fighter jets, more Apache attack helicopters and V-22 Osprey tilt rotor aircraft, The Associated Press reported.

Mr. Thornberry said the shifted funds would ensure that American forces would have the weapons and equipment needed to face a range of threats, from an increasingly aggressive Russia and China to the ongoing battle against the Islamic State.

“Starting to turn around our readiness shortfalls while staying within the total dollars requested by the administration means that there is not enough money to fund” ongoing combat operations while keeping in line with the Pentagon’s budget proposal for this fiscal year, Mr. Thornberry told the AP.

On Wednesday Mr. Carter fired back, saying the proposed reductions were “exactly the kind of terrible distraction we’ve seen for years that undercuts stable planning and efficient use of taxpayer dollars, dispirits troops from their family, baffles friends and emboldens foes.”

Earlier this month Mr. Carter announced that over 200 U.S. troops backed by additional American airpower and a shipment of heavy weapons would be heading to Iraq to support the Mosul offensive. However, that offensive has bogged down over the last several weeks, prompting the White House to send in additional American weapons and support.

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