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Funding for US border wall being diverted from Guam

The diverting of cash could cause problems for plans to move Marines to the US territory.

US President Donald Trump is raising a large chunk of the money for his border wall with Mexico by deferring several large military construction projects slated for the strategically important Pacific outpost of Guam (Greg Baker/AP)
US President Donald Trump is raising a large chunk of the money for his border wall with Mexico by deferring several large military construction projects slated for the strategically important Pacific outpost of Guam (Greg Baker/AP)

By Audrey McAvoy, Associated Press

US President Donald Trump is raising a large chunk of the money for his border wall with Mexico by deferring several military construction projects slated for Guam.

About 7% of the funds for the 3.6 billion dollar (£2.9 billion) wall are being diverted from eight projects in the US territory.

Guam, which has a population of around 160,000, is a a strategic hub for US forces in the Pacific.

The administration has vowed it is only delaying the spending, not cancelling it.

But Democrats in Congress, outraged over Mr Trump’s use of an emergency order for the wall, have promised they will not approve money to revive the projects.

“The fact is, by literally taking that money after it had been put in place and using it for something else, you now put those projects in jeopardy,” said Carl Baker, executive director of Pacific Forum, a Honolulu-based foreign policy think tank.

The Senate on Wednesday passed a measure blocking Mr Trump from raiding the military construction budget for the wall.

The Democratic-controlled House passed the bill on Friday, but Mr Trump is expected to veto it as he did with an identical measure in March.

The tiny island of Guam holds a naval base with fast attack submarines and an Air Force base with bombers that rotate in from the mainland.

The US currently plans to start moving 5,000 Marines there from Okinawa in southern Japan around 2025.

The longer that the projects on Guam are delayed, that means the longer that there's not going to be any forward movement on some aspects of moving the Marines off Okinawa

But the diverted funding may disrupt plans to move Marines to Guam from Japan and to modernise munitions storage for the Air Force.

This is part of a decades-long effort by Tokyo and Washington to relieve the congested Japanese island’s burden of hosting half the US forces stationed in Japan. The total cost of relocating the Marines is 8.7 billion dollars (£7.1 billion), of which Japan is paying 3.1 billion (£2.5 billion).

The projects put on hold by the border wall are a small share of this total, yet critical to the relocation.

Some 56 million dollars (£45 million) is needed to build a well system that will supply most of the water to be used by a new Marine base, along with a 50 million dollar (£40 million) live-fire training range and a 52 million dollar (£42 million)munitions storage facility.

Documents about the projects the military provided to Congress say the Marines will not leave Okinawa until replacement facilities in Guam are ready.

The documents say failure to complete these two projects could delay or prevent the Marines from moving.

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A US Air Force B-1B Lancer arrives at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam (Tech. Sgt. Richard P. Ebensberget/AP)

Jeffrey Hornung, a researcher at the RAND Corporation, a public policy research institute, said even before the latest development, some Okinawa residents were frustrated with the lack of progress in moving the Marines.

“The fact is, the longer that the projects on Guam are delayed, that means the longer that there’s not going to be any forward movement on some aspects of moving the Marines off Okinawa,” he said.

“And this all comes from taking money to build a border wall.”

Representative Ed Case, a Democrat from Hawaii who sits on the House appropriations subcommittee for military construction, said he is concerned the administration diverted so much from Guam, given the island is key to the nation’s defence posture in the Pacific.

But he said rewarding these funds in another budget would set an “incredibly dangerous precedent”.

“That is a very difficult situation because these are priority projects. However, if we simply said yes to this president on that basis, which he is very much hoping that we will do, then we have essentially said to him and any future president that Congress’ role as the responsible branch of government for appropriations no longer counts,” Mr Case said.

PA

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