Top San Diego Marine Says Budget Cuts Could Hold Back Troops
U.S. troop numbers in Afghanistan, the Asian Pivot and growing turf battles within the Pentagon were just a few of the topics Marine Lt. Gen. John A. Toolan touched on during a speech delivered to defense industry leaders Wednesday.
But the first question on the minds of hundreds at the San Diego Military Advisory Council breakfast dealt with the budget and its potential implications for the Marine Corps.
“This upcoming year the damage will be minimal,” said Toolan, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force commander. “But eventually it is going to hit into our capability to deploy.”
“Transportation just crushes us. Whether its theater security, sending an engagement team to Indonesia or trying to get a battalion to Okinawa … It may cause us to stay at home more and do less.”
Toolan said budget priorities could determine whether the U.S. military, particularly the Marine Corps, stays "home" and primarily responds to crisis from the United States, or is forward-deployed and in position to shape events from locations around the world.
He said lack of funds could also keep Marines from engaging with other forces around the Pacific Rim and thus weaken American influence in parts of the world growing increasingly contentious, but also ones increasingly vital to U.S. security and prosperity.
Defense experts suggest the United States should focus more attention on Asia away from Europe and the Middle East. This change is sometimes referred to as the Asian Pivot, though Toolan called it “Pacific Rebalancing.”
A stay at home policy could have direct and indirect consequences on American interests and regional stability.
Some Pacific allies, specifically Japan, are wondering if the United States would truly back it in a confrontation against China, Toolan said.
This has spurred Japan to increase defense spending, which in turn raises concerns among some countries in the region with long memories.
The lack of U.S. troops staged aboard or close to potential flashpoints also means no emergency forces to counter Benghazi-style attacks that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others in Libya last Sept. 11.
On other subjects, Toolan said:
- The Marine Corps is improving its transition of troops to civilian life. Part of that solution is holding assistance classes starting a year away from separation. The extra time should help those leaving the service be better prepared.
- Currently a 250-person Marine force rotates through Darwin, Australia. This force will grow to 2,500 in the coming years. Camp Pendleton Marines will be part of this rotation.
- Most Camp Pendleton forces are back home. But Pacific rotations are coming soon.
- There is increasing competition among commands and branches for missions.
- Afghanistan troops will be fine as they take over for U.S. troops – but they still need between 5,000 and 10,000 U.S. troops there to back them up. He did not say how long they should stay after the bulk pulls out in 2014.