Afghanistan's sudden collapse to the Taliban two weeks ago and the impending withdrawal of U.S. forces has left the Pentagon with at least $6 billion in unspent funds for Afghan military training – and a fight over how to spend the money is already brewing on Capitol Hill.
The funds include about $2.9 billion unspent from fiscal years 2020 and 2021, as well as $3.3 billion requested for fiscal 2022 by the Pentagon to train and equip the Afghan National Army, National Police, Air Force and Special Security Forces.
The Defense Department’s Comptroller is consulting with members of Congress and the White House Office of Management and Budget over what to do with the funds, Bloomberg reported.
"DOD will work with the congressional defense committees to determine the most appropriate use for those funds," Pentagon spokesman Christopher Sherwood said.
But lawmakers are deeply divided over how to reappropriate the money: Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., told FOX Business on Monday the funding should go toward "robust counterterrorism" operations in the region.
"We have abandoned all of that," Wittman, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said. "Think about this. Think about the equipment that we left behind in the hands of the Taliban. So that's another opportunity that they have to do harm against us and our friends."
The development comes as the House considers its version of the National Defense Authorization Act this week – and faces mounting pressure to increase President Biden's proposed $715 billion defense budget. Progressives on Monday urged Rep. Adam Smith, chair of the House Armed Service Committee, to not support a $25 billion budget hike endorsed by the Senate Armed Services earlier this summer.
Bipartisan support in the Senate to raise the defense budget has ratcheted up pressure on the House to do the same.
But Smith has acknowledged that enough Democrats will support more defense funding to force an increase in the overall amount of funding authorized in the House NDAA. The money previously earmarked for the Afghan military is now part of that discussion, he told Politico, though he reiterated that "it does not fundamentally alter the topline debate."
"There's a lot of people who think that we need to go above Biden's budget anyway," he said. "There's another $3 billion to accomplish some of that. So that's been part of that broader discussion."
Still, some progressive groups are pushing to ensure the money goes to Afghan refugees fleeing the country after the Taliban's takeover.
"Redirecting these $6 billion to finance evacuations, refugee resettlement and much-needed humanitarian assistance, for example, could spell the difference between life and death for countless Afghans," said Kate Kizer, policy director of Win Without War. "After two decades of occupation, tens of thousands of lives lost and millions more displaced, it would be an insult to the people of Afghanistan to turn around and use the funds freed up by their government’s collapse to double down on weapons and war."