Deploying troops to the southern border and transferring funds to meet President Trump's national emergency declaration is posing an "unacceptable risk to Marine Corps combat readiness," the commandant of the Marines has warned the Pentagon in a pair of memos.
Because of the "unplanned/unbudgeted" directives from the president, and damage suffered to its facilities from hurricanes Florence and Michael, Marines were forced to cancel or significantly reduce training operations in five countries, which Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller said were intended to strengthen alliances across the globe and ensure troops are combat-ready.
Trump declared a national emergency in February, a move to divert billions of dollars to fulfill his campaign promise of building a border wall after Congress refused to fund the project. Congress then approved legislation to cancel the declaration, but it was quickly rejected by the president by wielding his first presidential veto.
The wall and its funding have been a political lightning rod since the campaign days of the 2016 election, but Neller's memos mark the first instance of active military officials airing, albeit in private memos, concerns about the impacts of Trump's immigration policy on troops.
"Marines rely on the hard, realistic training provided by these events to develop the individual and collective skills necessary to prepare for high-end combat," Neller wrote in a March 18 memo to Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer.
And because of the budget shortfall, the Marines were looking at the possibility of halting construction projects to repair damage from hurricanes last year, just as a new hurricane season is fast approaching. In particular, Neller pointed to $3.5 billion in damages suffered by the Marine Corps during Hurricanes Florence and Michael.
The memos were obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
In a brief statement to BuzzFeed News, a Marine Corps spokesperson confirmed the validity of the memos, outlining a series of budget challenges and shortfalls being faced by the Marines.
"Hurricanes Florence and Michael, along with numerous unplanned/unbudgeted mandates, form the basis for the Commandant's request for resources to address Fiscal Year-19 budget shortfalls and ensure Marine Corps readiness," the spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.
With limits placed on transferring money under Trump's national emergency at the border, Neller wrote that the Marines would be about $1.3 billion short for recovery operations.
"The inability to reprogram money and the lack of a supplemental for Hurricane Florence damage is negatively impacting Marine Corps readiness," Neller wrote. "We are in a challenging situation where we are not receiving the fiscal support necessary to address the critical situation in North Carolina as hurricane season approaches."
But the Marine Corps commandant also highlighted "unplanned/unbudgeted Southwest Border Operations," which have become a cornerstone of the Trump administration's immigration policy, including deploying US troops to the border and declaring a national emergency to divert funds to build a border wall.
The budget shortfalls, Neller wrote, have forced the Marines to cancel or reduce training operations in Scotland, Indonesia, Mongolia, Australia, and South Korea, "at a time where we are attempting to double down on strengthening alliances and attracting new partners."
From October 2017 to the end of January, Pentagon officials have reported that the cost of sending thousands of active-duty and National Guard troops has been $235 million.
A Pentagon spokesperson told BuzzFeed News recent numbers on the cost were not immediately available.