The White House on Thursday sent Congress a proposed fiscal 2015 war budget that includes major cuts and a request for $500 million to train and equip moderate rebels in Syria’s civil war.
The $58.6 billion request for the Defense Department so-called Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) next year is $20.9 billion less than the $79.4 billion placeholder originally included in the budget, the White House's Office of Management and Budget said.
In recent years, war budgets have generally been in the $80 billion range, down from the $187 billion in fiscal 2008 at the height of the Iraq war.
Earlier this month in a speech at West Point, President Barack Obama signaled that there would be major cuts in OCO funding. He proposed keeping 9,800 troops in Afghanistan next year. The number of troops would be cut in half during 2016 and all U.S. forces would be withdrawn in 2017.
In the West Point speech, Obama also proposed including a $5 billion Counterterrorism Partnership Fund in which the U.S. would seek to partner with other nations on combating terror groups. The $5 billion was included in the request submitted by OMB.
The OCO request reflected the administration’s rising concerns about the threat from extremists in the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant who have used safe havens in eastern Syria to launch sweeping attacks across large swaths of western and northern Iraq.
“We are seeking $500 million for a proposed authority to train and equip appropriately vetted elements of the moderate Syrian armed opposition,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement.
She said “this request marks another step toward helping the Syrian people defend themselves against regime attacks” and also “push back against the growing number of extremists like ISIL who find safe-haven in the chaos” of Syria’s civil war.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, said he backed the overall OCO request and the $500 million for the Syrian rebels. “In light of recent events in Iraq and Syria, this is appropriate spending,” he said in a statement.
The financial support for the fighters represented a change of course for the administration. The U.S. previously had resisted a full-blown commitment to training and arming the Syrian rebels for fear that the weapons might fall into the hands of anti-U.S. extremists.
On the House side, Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-California, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, complained that the general outlines of the OCO budget were leaked before it was sent to Congress.
“The administration delayed this proposal for over four months and now appears to be in a rush to deliver it to the Hill with little detail on how the Department would spend the money,” McKeon said.
The total war budget submitted by OMB was $65.8 billion -- $58.6 billion for DoD and $7.3 billion for related activities of the State Department.
The Pentagon's OCO funding request also includes $1.4 billion for State/Office of International Programs beyond the $5.9 billion included in the budget, bringing the State OCO total to $7.3 billion.
The Obama administration in 2009 began using the term “Overseas Contingency Operations” to replace the term “global war on terror” that was used by the administration of former President George W. Bush.
The OCO budget, sometimes called the supplemental budget, is in addition to the base defense budget of $496 billion submitted for fiscal 2015.
Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.firstname.lastname@example.org