Policy Letter

POGO letter to Senate; Combating Waste: C-17 Resources Needed for Troops in Afghanistan

Dear Senator,

As you consider the FY 2010 Defense Appropriations bill, we ask that you support Senator John McCain’s Amendment 2580 to strike funding for unneeded C-17 cargo planes. Appropriating $2.5 billion for additional C-17s diverts money away from more urgent national security priorities.

In particular, we are concerned, based on documents and photographs obtained by POGO and published in the press, that U.S. Special Forces in Pakistan and Afghanistan lack sufficient heavy-lift helicopters for “white missions” to recruit and train local antiterrorist militias and engage the enemy in remote areas.[1] Without these helicopters, troops must use land vehicles, which are vulnerable to improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Of the last eleven deaths among U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan, eight have been caused by IEDs.[2] We understand that there is a serious allocation problem with helicopter assets, a situation one former Special Forces General described as “really foul.” The problem could be partially solved by reallocation. We have included photographs of land vehicles destroyed in missions that would have been otherwise been performed with helicopters, had the resources been available.

The Senate is well aware of how this mission directly impacts our national security: last June Defense Secretary Gates testified to the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee that we must increase our Special Forces capabilities, including buying more aircraft to support their missions.[3] Knowing this, we believe that spending $2.5 billion on unwanted and unneeded C-17s is unconscionable and a waste of taxpayer dollars.

The Pentagon’s analyses have found that the 205 C-17s in the force and on order will sufficiently meet future airlift needs, even under the most stressing situations.

We urge you to support our troops in the field by supporting Senator McCain’s amendment to strike the earmark for C-17 spending from the FY 2010 Defense Appropriations bill.


Danielle Brian

Executive Director


1 Mark Hosenball, “Not-So-Special Forces,” Newsweek, September 19, 2009, http://www.newsweek.com/id/215749

2 Press releases for troops killed by IEDs in Afghanistan- http://www.defenselink.mil/releases/release.aspx?releaseid=13020, http://news.soc.mil/releases/News%20Archive/2009/September/090917-02.html, http://news.soc.mil/releases/News%20Archive/2009/August/090814-01.html, http://news.soc.mil/releases/News%20Archive/2009/August/090804-02.html

And for troops killed by other means - http://news.soc.mil/releases/News%20Archive/2009/August/090831-01.html, http://news.soc.mil/releases/News%20Archive/2009/August/090824-02.html

3 Statement of Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates before the Senate Appropriations Committee – Defense Subcommittee, June 9, 2009, p. 3, http://appropriations.senate.gov/ht-defense.cfm?method=hearings.view&id=cdcc3ea3-3643-459e-bf63-1ab89520d99f.