US may extend Afghanistan deployments


US soldiers deployed in Afghanistan may see their war tours extended next year because budget cuts will drastically limit training for brigades to replace them, the top US army general said on Friday.

Gen Raymond Odierno, US army chief of staff, said the military will be able to fund training and operations for combat units in Afghanistan now and for those deploying in the summer and fall. But he added there would be delays in training for those deploying in 2014.

“If those training delays can’t be made up”, Odierno said he would have to send forces to war that weren’t ready or extend deployments of units already there. A number of combat brigades would be deployed later this year and next year, even as the US winds down the war.

“We will try to divert money so we do not have to extend people in Afghanistan,” Odierno told a conference at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “That’s a very big concern of mine.”

He said right now the army was facing a shortfall of as much as $8 billion in operating funds for Afghanistan, and there could be an additional $5.4 billion in cuts if Congress could not resolve a budget standoff and automatic reductions – called sequester – go into effect.

Rep Howard “Buck” McKeon, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, on Friday said he expected the sequestration to go into effect March 1, triggering $46 billion in automatic cuts to the overall Pentagon budget through September.