WASHINGTON — The top Marine did not beat around the bush: Unilateral decisions to stretch the Marine Corps with deployments to the U.S.-Mexico border and shifting defense money to pay for building a wall on that border have imposed an “unacceptable risk to Marine Corps combat readiness and solvency.”
The concerns were spelled out in two memos written by Gen. Robert Neller, the commandant of the Marine Corps, to Navy Secretary Richard Spencer and Patrick Shanahan, the acting Defense Secretary.
The memos, dated March 18 and March 19, were first reported Thursday by the Los Angeles Times. They are certain to add to the maelstrom over the border issues awaiting Shanahan when he appears before the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.
On Friday, Rep. Ruben Gallego sent a letter to the military Service Chiefs demanding information about the effects that unplanned military operations – including diversion of troops and resources to the U.S.-Mexico border – are having on military readiness.
““Military leaders are sounding the alarm about Donald Trump’s reckless decision to use our troops as a political pawn in support of his fake emergency, and we need to listen and act,” Gallego (D-Ariz,) said. He is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
Neller said the “unplanned and unbudgeted factors” resulted in the Marines canceling and reducing the scope of several military exercises “at a time where we are attempting to double down on strengthening alliances and attracting new partners.”
Exercises in Indonesia, Scotland and Mongolia were canceled, and reduced participation in exercises occurred with Australia and South Korea, he wrote.
“The overall impacts of these cancellations and expected cancellations will result in three extremely negative impacts to the joint force,” Neller wrote, referring to combat readiness, allied partnerships and overall Corps solvency.
Neller also wrote that $3.5 billion in hurricane-relief efforts were the biggest unexpected financial cost.
The Pentagon last reported that the cost of the active-troop deployment to the border was around $130 million as of Jan. 1. That was the day Shanahan became acting defense secretary.
Since then the mission has been extended until at least Sept. 30; no new deployment cost numbers have been shared.
About 500 Marines are deployed on the U.S.-Mexico border, the Marines said.
Earlier this year, Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, the head of U.S. Northern Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee, “It is not a military threat” along the U.S.-Mexico border.
On Monday, Shanahan and Gen. Joe Dunford, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, concurred with O’Shaughnessy when testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Neller is expected to testify at one point on Capitol Hill regarding the fiscal 2020 budget request.