The Army’s plans to cut 40,000 troops from its ranks in the next two years has angered lawmakers on Capitol Hill who complain the Defense Department didn’t give them an advance warning of the move and has not addressed how the reduction will impact both their home districts and the fight against the Islamic State.
The Army is expected to announce details this week of how and where it will make the cuts first outlined in last year’s Quadrennial Defense Review.
More than 4,000 of the 40,000 total soldiers cut will come from Georgia’s Fort Stewart and Fort Benning, according to Sen. Johnny Isakson, Georgia Republican.
Mr. Isakson said he will block the president’s nominee for congressional liaison to the Defense Department because the military did not give Congress a “heads-up” before publicly announcing the force reductions.
“We cannot afford to reduce our military readiness at a time when the threats to our security here at home and throughout the world are growing at an alarming rate,” Mr. Isakson said. “We should be using our military to send a clear signal to the rest of the world that America has no intention of standing down in the fight against the threat of terrorism worldwide.”
In addition to the 40,000 soldiers, the Army will also lay off about 17,000 civilian employees, affecting thousands of military families and communities across the country.
“The Army faces an extremely difficult fiscal environment, with its portion of Budget Control Act/sequester cuts estimated at approximately $95 billion over 10 years,” Lt. Col. Joe Buccino, an Army spokesman, said in a statement. “Failing to maintain the proper balance between end-strength, readiness, and modernization will result in a hollow Army.”
The Army had previously announced it would draw down to about 450,000 soldiers by the end of fiscal 2017 from the war-time peak of 570,000 in 2012. The current troop level is 490,000 soldiers.
The cuts to the Army come as the administration grapples with increasing security threats posed by the Islamic State in the Middle East, as well as rising military tensions in Ukraine and Eastern Europe. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey told lawmakers on Tuesday that global security today is “as uncertain as I’ve ever seen it.”
Another 30,000 soldiers could be mustered out by fiscal 2019 if Congress allows across-the-board cuts known as sequestration to go into effect.
“Timely end-strength reductions and structure adjustments in all Army components are necessary to shape a force that can best meet defense strategic requirements within constrained funding,” Lt. Col. Buccino said.
The cumulative loss of more than a quarter of the wartime Army with an end strength of just 420,000 could leave the Army unprepared to defend the country, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office released in May.
While 450,000 is smaller than ideal, but still acceptable given fiscal constraints, 420,000 would be too small and send a bad message both at home and abroad, said Michael O’Hanlon, a defense analyst with the Brookings Institute.
“At some point these cuts are like a frog in the proverbial pot of warming water — you don’t know when you’ve cut too much, until it’s too late,” Mr. O’Hanlon said.
Rep. Michael Turner, Ohio Republican, said the sequestration defense cut needs to be ended, especially at a time where the global security environment is so uncertain.
“To see these cuts made at such a pivotal time for our national security is troubling,” he said in a statement. “The protection of our national defense and the security of the American people must come first.”