Pentagon to Release Afghanistan Requests

With the U.S.'s involvement in Afghanistan set to wind down at the end of the year, there is some uncertainty about the military presence in 2015 and beyond. Until a security accord is reached, it is difficult to say whether the U.S. will leave a small residual force in the country or whether the U.S. will withdraw entirely. Because of the uncertainty, the Pentagon provided a placeholder request of $79.4 billion (most of the $85 billion war spending total) for FY 2015 without specifying how the money will be spent.

According to Bloomberg, the Pentagon will be filling in some of the blanks by providing three different scenarios for funding based on the troops remaining in Afghanistan. The higher scenario will cover potential troop levels of 10,000, the middle 5,000 troops, and the lowest zero troops remaining in the country beyond 2014. Although there isn't a single "Pentagon request," these three funding outlines will be important for a few different reasons.

For one, hopefully appropriators will listen to the Pentagon's requests. In the past, they may have used the war spending designation (Overseas Contingency Operations) to spend above what would be allowed by the base defense spending caps by appropriating more than the administration's request for OCO funding and shifting programs normally funded through the base budget to the OCO category. This budgetary circumnavigation undercuts the discipline the defense spending limits were meant to provide by placing non-war spending within the OCO category, since it is not capped like the base budget. The Pentagon's requests will provide a good benchmark for judging whether lawmakers are appropriately funding the overseas war or whether they are using it as a prop to evade budgetary discipline.

Second, the requests should shed some light on the path of the future drawdown in war spending. Both the President and House Republicans have assumed the same gradual troop drawdown in their budgets, reducing funding from $92 billion this year to $85 billion in FY 2015, $30 billion annually through 2021, and then zero thereafter. (The House Democrats assumed the same level – $85 billion – this year and zero thereafter.) Although the Pentagon's request would only be for FY 2015, it may help show whether the budgets' estimations are too steep and if it is not feasible to completely eliminate OCO funding and fund all costs through the capped base defense budget. If either is true, then the budgets' numbers would be overly optimistic.

In short, these funding outlines should shed some light for appropriators and budgeteers alike.