Washington, April 11 (IANS/RIA Novosti) The US military has been hard hit by sweeping budget cuts, but has not lost its capacity to stand up to an attack by North Korea, defense officials said.
"We have every capability to deal with any action North Korea would take, to protect this country, and the interests of this country, and our allies," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday at a briefing on the Pentagon's 2014 proposed budget.
Hagel said the "sequester" - sweeping government budget cuts that took effect last month - has cut some $41 billion from the defense department budget for fiscal year 2013.
The sequester budget cuts "will lead to the suspension of important activities, curtailed training, and could result in furloughs of civilian personnel", Hagel warned.
Defense Department Comptroller Robert Hale, who is Hagel's lead adviser on budgetary matters, said that the sequester budget cuts would have "significant adverse effects on military readiness".
"But I want to make clear to our adversaries: even though we have budget problems, we're still there and we will protect the United States and our allies," he said.
Overseas Combat Operations (OCO), including the US military's involvement in Afghanistan, face a budget shortfall this year, said Lt.Gen. Mark Ramsay, who is in charge of force structure, resources and assessment for the Pentagon.
Combined with the sequester, "OCO shortfalls... mean we have to make cuts across the board", he said.
Every branch of the US military has made cuts, the officials said.
The army has cancelled maintenance and training, except for troops bound for Afghanistan; the air force has "stood down" 12 combat squadrons, eight of which were grounded this week. The Marine Corps has delayed the deployment of the Harry S. Truman battle group to the Persian Gulf; and the navy has reduced flight hours and "steaming" days for vessels.
The sequester cuts require "total projected defense spending to decline by $487 billion from 2012 through 2021", the Pentagon said in a statement.
In his budget proposal, President Barack Obama offered what the White House described as a way for Congress to stop the sequester, and reduce the cuts to the Pentagon's budget from $500 billion to $150 billion.
Obama's political opponents say it is in fact they who have the budget solutions that would stop the sequester and blame the president for rejecting their proposals.