Pentagon & Congress

SOUTHCOM chief: Sequestration will bring 'defeat'

The offensive launched by defense leaders against the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration continued Thursday, with the four-star chief of U.S. Southern Command predicting "defeat" in his missions if the budget trims go into effect later this year.

Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly told senators that he is already short-staffed and under-resourced for anti-narcotic operations and broader security missions in his command.

Capping spending under sequestration, he said, would pull more service members and ships away from that effort and disrupt partnerships with countries in the region.

"It will be a catastrophe. It will put me out of business," he said. "We could be talking not about higher risk or severe risk, but defeat."

Kelly's warnings are just the latest dire predictions delivered to Congress in recent months, as lawmakers debate how to avoid looming sequestration spending caps set to again take effect this fall after a two-year hiatus.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, and a parade of senior defense officials have pleaded with lawmakers to remove the spending caps, saying they'll endanger military readiness and national security.

Members of the House and Senate Armed Services committees have echoed those cries, and promised to find a solution. But so far those pledges have not been taken to heart by party leaders, and no credible compromise between Republicans and Democrats has emerged.

Kelly noted that his combatant command is a "relatively peaceful" one compared to conflicts in the Middle East. But he added that reduced operational ability will still mean more risk for U.S. national security, with the possibility of increased illegal drug activity and violence along the southern border.

He also said that many smaller partner nations in South and Central America lack the resources to assume ongoing anti-narcotics missions if the U.S. decreases its funding.

Kelly predicted sequestration caps will leave him with "maybe one or two Coast Guard cutters" to monitor thousands of miles of sea, and would cut the annual haul of illegal narcotics seized by his command by up to 80 percent.

Senate and House Republicans are expected to unveil their initial fiscal 2016 budget plans and latest sequestration approaches next week.

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