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US Army under increasing pressure as it foots bill for Ukraine support

By Haley Britzky and Natasha Bertrand, CNN

(CNN) — As funding for Ukraine faces an uncertain future in Congress, the US Army has been left to foot the bill for hundreds of millions of dollars in support for Ukraine’s war effort against Russia over the last few months — and Army officials are increasingly concerned that without new funding, they will have to begin pulling money from other critical projects to continue supporting Kyiv.

Since October 2023, the beginning of the fiscal year, the Army has spent over $430 million on various operations, including training Ukrainian troops, transporting equipment, and US troop deployments to Europe.

“We’re basically taking it out of hide in the Army,” a senior Army official told CNN.

So far, that bill has been paid from the Army’s Europe and Africa Command. Without a 2024 budget approved by Congress, and without additional funding specifically for Ukraine, the command has roughly $3 billion to pay for $5 billion of operations costs, a second senior Army official explained. That includes not only the operations related to Ukraine support — training and ferrying weapons and equipment to Poland and Ukraine — but other operations for the US command throughout Europe and Africa.

If Congress still hasn’t passed new funding for Ukraine within a few months, Army officials say they will have to start making hard decisions and divert money from less critical projects, such as badly needed barracks construction or enlistment incentives amid record-low recruiting.

If the Army doesn’t pull funds from elsewhere, Army Europe and Africa’s roughly $3 billion budget would run out of money for operations not just related to Ukraine, but elsewhere in Europe and Africa, by the end of May, the second senior Army official told CNN.

“If we don’t get a base budget, if we don’t get Ukraine supplemental [funding package], if the government shuts down, if we get nothing else and nothing changes from today … we will run out of [operations and maintenance] funding in May,” the Army official said. Those operations include training exercises for Army forces in Europe and Africa and equipment moving into the theater. Contracts also wouldn’t be paid on time and would garner penalty fees, he added.

“We would cease to exist” if these funds were not allocated from elsewhere within the Army’s budget, the official said.

Army Secretary Christine Wormuth — the service’s senior civilian leader who ultimately decides where much of the budget is spent — told CNN she expects the Army would “have to sort of rob Peter to pay Paul.”

“Every incremental dollar I have, it’s very important where I put that dollar. And I’m constantly choosing between, do we put it on barracks? Do I put it on enlistment incentives? Do I put it on exercises? Do I put it on modernization? I don’t have spare cash to be just sort of donating some of that,” Wormuth said.

“This was money that we anticipated to be replenished, obviously, by the supplemental,” she added, echoing the urgent need for funding.

Training continues

While US funding for Ukraine has dried up, training for Ukrainian troops has continued because it has been deemed mission critical by the president. Col. Martin O’Donnell, spokesman for US Army Europe and Africa, told CNN the US is training roughly 1,500 Ukrainians at Grafenwoehr Training Area in Germany. Stateside, the US is also continuing its training of Ukrainian pilots on the F-16 fighter aircraft at Morris Air National Guard Base in Arizona.

In addition to training, equipment is still flowing to the Ukrainians from US stocks under previous Presidential Drawdown Authority (PDA) packages and from weapons and equipment that was purchased from the defense industrial base under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI).

The US was regularly announcing PDA and USAI packages until funding dried up at the end of 2023.

Lawmakers in Congress have been debating a next tranche of funding for Ukraine for months. Last week, the Senate voted to advance a $95.3 billion foreign aid bill, including $60 billion in support for Ukraine. But it’s unclear what future the bill has in the House; Speaker Mike Johnson told reporters Tuesday that he “certainly” does not intend to bring it to the floor for a vote.

“Right now, we’re dealing with the appropriations process, we have immediate deadlines upon us, and that’s where the attention is in the House in this moment,” he said.

The millions of dollars the Army has spent this fiscal year to keep the wheels turning in Europe is divided into three main categories, the second official explained — contracts, travel and transport, and supplies.

This includes logistics needs; food; key equipment, including tents; and supplies such as petroleum and repair parts, not just for Ukrainians but also the US troops training them. So far in fiscal year 2024, the Army has spent $39.7 million on ground transportation, the first senior Army official told CNN.

While some of what the Army is spending can be replenished through the supplemental spending bill being debated on Capitol Hill, it’s also critical to the service for Congress to approve budget for the 2024 fiscal year. Last month, lawmakers approved a short-term funding bill to keep the government open until the beginning of March. And it’s not just the Army; National Guard Bureau Chief Gen. Daniel Hokanson told reporters the agency would eventually need more resources if the US intended to train more Ukrainian F-16 pilots.

“We do have the resources to continuing the training that’s already started … and hopefully get all those folks completed later on this year,” Hokanson said. “And then if we decide to increase that, obviously, we’ll need the resources to train additional pilots and ground support personnel.”

In a briefing earlier this month, Sabrina Singh, the deputy Pentagon press secretary, raised the lack of a 2024 budget, saying the Pentagon is “losing critical time.”

“We are already in our fifth month of this fiscal year and the DOD is still … operating under our third continuing resolution. That puts at risk our national security and prevents the department from modernizing, as we are constrained to existing funding level,” Singh said. “We ask that Congress immediately pass our base budget and supplemental request.”

And the second senior Army official warned that ultimately, a delay in funding has broader consequences than a disruption in training or aid to Ukraine.

“It’s all interconnected,” the official said. “And what we’re doing in one space is impacting us everywhere. We renege on this stuff — you don’t think China’s watching out there in the Pacific? You don’t think that’s going to have direct impacts on the Pacific? … Russia is definitely watching.”

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