The Pentagon is shifting US$1.5 billion in funds originally targeted for support of the Afghan security forces and other projects to help pay for construction of 129km of wall at the US-Mexican border.
Congress was notified of the move today. It follows the Pentagon’s decision in March to transfer US$1 billion from Army personnel budget accounts to support wall construction.
Some lawmakers have been highly critical of the Pentagon shifting money not originally authorised for border security.
The combined total of US$2.5 billion is in response to President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the border, where Customs and Border Protection personnel are struggling to cope with increasing numbers of Central American families attempting to gain entry.
Mr Trump vetoed Congress’ attempt to reverse his emergency declaration.
In all, the Pentagon is expected to shift about US$6.1 billion to help build a border wall, including about US$3.6 billion from military construction projects, some of which will be delayed. The Pentagon has not yet announced which projects will be delayed in order to free up those funds.
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who plans to visit the border tomorrow, said in an exchange with reporters today, “I won’t be reprogramming any more money for the border wall”.
He appeared to be referring to having reached the goal of channeling US$2.5 billion – today’s announcement coupled with the March transfer of money – into a counterdrug program that will be used for the wall.
“We have very smart people here in the department, and we found ways to do this without having any impact on readiness,” he said, speaking before a meeting with Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks.
In a written statement announcing the shift of the US$1.5 billion, Mr Shanahan that the Pentagon is “fully engaged” in fixing the border crisis. He said more than 4000 troops and 19 aircraft are supporting Customs and Border Protection personnel.
“Today, I authorised the transfer of $1.5 billion toward the construction of more than 80 miles of border barrier,” he said.
“The funds were drawn from a variety of sources, including cost savings, programmatic changes and revised requirements, and therefore will have minimal impact on force readiness.”
Some in Congress, however, are opposed to the use of Pentagon funds to build the wall.
“The Pentagon has now reprogrammed 12 times more money to the wall than for repairs for Tyndall AFB, destroyed by Hurricane Michael. We should put troops first!” Sen Richard Durbin wrote on Twitter.
He was referring to storm damage at the Air Force base in Florida where almost every building was damaged.
In its written notification to Congress, the Pentagon said it was moving the US$1.5 billion to support “higher priority items based on unforeseen military requirements than those for which” the funds were originally provided by Congress.
The move is “necessary in the national interest”, it added, according to a copy of the notice obtained by The Associated Press.