President Donald Trump’s decision to deploy Marines to the southwest border and funding transfers under his emergency declaration for a border wall are “negatively affecting Marine Corps readiness,” according to a memo by Marine Corps Commandant General Robert Neller.
“Unplanned and unbudgeted” tasks have caused the reallocation of funds from the defense budget, leading to an”unacceptable risk to the Marine Corps,” Neller, the highest ranking member of the USMC, wrote in the memo according to the L.A. Times.
Active duty troops sent to patrol the border have cost the Pentagon $130 million as of January 1. There have been no new estimates of future costs since the mission was indefinitely extended. The $2.5 billion in defense dollars to support the construction of a border wall are also adding to the strain, according to CNN.
Budget constraints are causing the Marine Corps to make decisions that are “not desired nor easy,” according to the memo, such as cancelling or limiting planned military exercises with allies like Indonesia, Scotland, Australia, and South Korea. This all comes at a time when the U.S. is attempting to strengthen alliances and attract new partners, according to CNN.
Mandy Smithberger is a defense expert at the Project for Government Oversight, a nonpartisan independent watchdog group.
“It’s pretty unusual for the commandant to be raising concerns that… a top political priority for the president is undermining the ability of the Marine Corps to do the training they need,” she told the L.A. Times.
Neller addressed the $3.5 billion cost to repair Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, the largest Marine Corps base on the east coast, due to the damage from hurricane Florence in September of 2018, according to Fox News.
Recovery costs from hurricanes Florence and Michael, where Marines were deployed to aid in the rescue effort, as well as new housing allowances and civilian pay raises are contributing to the potential shortfalls.
“The hurricane season is only three months away, and we have Marines, Sailors, and civilians working in compromised structures,” Neller wrote.
Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Horlander told CNN that the costs were “not staggering to the point where, you know, it’s — it’s hurting our readiness, but it could.” The Army is using operations and maintenance funds to pay for the deployment of soldiers to the border.
Neller sent the memo to acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who are scheduled to testify on Tuesday before the House Armed Services Committee. Members are likely to ask about Neller’s concerns.