Budget cuts restrain US presence in Gulf
U.S. soldiers board a U.S. military plane. AP Photo/Musadeq SadeqThe U.S. is cutting its aircraft carrier presence in the Persian Gulf region from two carriers to one, the Defense Department said Feb. 6, in a move that represents one of the most significant effects of budget cuts on the U.S. military presence overseas.
The Pentagon also announced it would seek a smaller-than-expected 1 percent pay increase for service members during the 2014 fiscal year that begins in October, another sign of fiscal pressures on the military after nearly a decade of growth.
Outgoing Pentagon chief Leon Panetta delayed the deployment of the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier and the USS Gettysburg guided-missile cruiser because of uncertainty over the department’s finances, Pentagon spokesman George Little said.
The two ships had been scheduled to leave their home ports in the United States bound for the Middle East later this week, officials said. “Facing budget uncertainty ... the U.S. Navy made this request to the secretary and he approved,” Little said in a statement. “This prudent decision enables the U.S. Navy to maintain these ships to deploy on short notice in the event they are needed to respond to national security contingencies.”
The decision leaves the United States with one aircraft carrier in the tense Gulf region, the same force level it has had since December. Little said the U.S. presence was “robust,” with a mix of ships and warplanes that could respond to any contingencies.
The decision to delay the carrier deployment came hours after Panetta warned in one of his final speeches as U.S. defense secretary that lurching from budget crisis to budget crisis was threatening U.S. national security.
He told students at Georgetown University in Washington that Congress’ failure to deal with the government’s financial problems put the Defense Department on the brink of having to absorb $46 billion in spending cuts over seven months.
The cuts, which are due to go into force on March 1 unless Congress acts to avert them, would require the Pentagon to put as many as 800,000 civilian employees on unpaid leave for 22 work days, reduce Navy operations in the western Pacific by up to one-third and cut Air Force flying hours, Panetta said.
According to the Navy, reducing the carrier presence in the Gulf from two to one will save several hundred million dollars, including spending on fuel for the ships and the carrier’s air wing, food and other supplies.
Kerry defies budget constraints
In 2010, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates approved a formal directive to keep two carrier groups in the Gulf amid escalating tensions with Iran. It has been part of a U.S. show of force in the region, particularly in an effort to ensure that the critical Strait of Hormuz remains open to naval traffic.
Iran has repeatedly threatened to close the strategic waterway, which is the transit route for about a fifth of the world’s oil supply, in retaliation for increased Western-led sanctions.
Wading into debates, Secretary of State John Kerry vowed Feb. 6 that the United States will not retreat from the world stage due to budget constraints or the complexity of global challenges.
Speaking after being ceremonially sworn into office by Vice President Joe Biden, Kerry said his military service in Vietnam taught him the cost of failed diplomacy. He said he was committed to working for peace but would not shy away from defending America, its values or ideals if they come under threat from “extremism, terrorism, chaos or evil.”
Compiled from AP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.