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Defense chief Mattis calls on Congress to allow base closures

WASHINGTON – Striving to succeed where his predecessors have failed, Defence Minister Jim Mattis called on Congress Monday to put the military services to shutter excess bases — a move the Pentagon concludes will save billions of dollars, but one that lawmakers have previously rejected.

Witnesses in the House Armed Services Committee, Mattis sought congressional approval to start a new round of base closings in 2021. He said that the department “currently has more infrastructure capacity than is required for the activities”. Outlook will not change, even if the service branches grow in size, ” he said.

Mattis estimated closing unneeded bases would save $10 billion over a period of five years, and said that money could be used for the acquisition of four nuclear submarines, or dozens of fighter jets.

The GOP-led Congress rejected the Obama administration requests to reduce the number of military bases. The Army and the air force, said that they had to clear more space for training and basing troops than they need, and the trimming of the surplus would be savings which can be used to strengthen the military.

But lawmakers have refused to go along, to ask questions about the data and the analysis of the Pentagon used to make its argument for less facilities. Military installations are valuable assets in congress districts.

Mattis, appeared before the commission together with Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, to field questions from lawmakers on President Donald Trump proposed military budget for the 2018 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

Trump has proposed a defence budget for 2018 of $639 billion, of which $65 billion for ongoing military operations. Yet Republican lawmakers pressing for upwards of $30 billion more to be added to the budget. They argue the extra money is needed for the reconstruction of the army.

“We have six years of just getting by, ask more and more of those who serve, and make the choices which must be made,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, the chairman of the commission.

The hearing Monday is likely to veer into questions about Russia, Qatar of alleged support for terrorism, the Syrian civil war, and other contentious topics.

Mattis is one of Russia’s most vocal critics. He called Russia the country’s No. 1 security threat, and the suspect is the leader, President Vladimir Putin of trying to “break” of the NATO.

The congress is considering slapping Russia with more sanctions in retaliation for Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 presidential elections. Although the commission has no direct role in the House and the Senate intelligence committee probes into Russia’s election failures, Mattis can be asked about the Pentagon’s programs to help European allies counter Russian aggression.

Qatar has been engulfed in a political crisis stemming from allegations made by its Arab neighbors that it supports terrorism. Qatar denies the allegations, but the ties with Iran, and the embrace of various Islamist groups have brought intensive monitoring and was a regional outlier. Last week, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain severed ties with Qatar in the midst of a whole series of repressive measures.

Trump has sided with Qatar antagonists, called on the Gulf state to stop the financing of terrorism.” But Qatar has been a long-time AMERICAN ally. The country hosts approximately 10,000 American troops as well as the forward headquarters of the U.S. Central Command.

A U.S.-backed Syrian opposition force has resulted in a broad offensive to take control of the Islamic State of the group’s de facto capital of Raqqa in northern Syria. The US provided essential military and diplomatic support to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. In anticipation of the battle for Raqqa, the Trump management said that it would begin the supply of the Kurdish elements of the SDF with heavy weapons.

The administration is still reviewing whether to send more American troops to Afghanistan after the top U.S. commander there told the legislators he could use a few thousand more to put an end to the impasse.

The war in Afghanistan began in October 2001. The U.S. has about 9,800 troops in Afghanistan conducting counter-terrorism operations against insurgents and training the Afghan army. Even though they are the end of their combat mission against the Taliban in 2014, they are increasingly involved in a back-up of the Afghan forces on the battlefield.

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Follow Richard Lardner on Twitter: http://twitter.com/rplardner

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