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Pentagon to transfer $1.5 billion to border wall from Afghan forces, other areas

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By Idrees Ali

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has approved the transfer of $1.5 billion to build more than 80 miles of barriers on the border with Mexico, U.S. official said on Friday, including taking about $600 million in savings from an account meant for Afghan security forces.

The latest move comes on top of a March transfer of $1 billion in military money to fund President Donald Trump's wall, something lawmakers were highly critical of.

"The funds were drawn from a variety of sources, including cost savings, programmatic changes and revised requirements, and therefore will have minimal impact on force readiness," Shanahan said in a statement.

Shanahan said that the U.S. military had more than 4,000 service members on the border along with 19 aircraft.

A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the latest transfer would include $604 million from funds for the Afghan security forces, which are struggling to hold territory against Taliban militants.

The United States had appropriated $4.9 billion in support for Afghan security forces for fiscal year 2019. The official said the money was taken from that account because they found savings in contracts.

"It is not reflective of anything related to our commitment ... It took less money to meet the policy commitment than we thought," another U.S. official said, adding that this was not the first time the United States had reprogrammed money from the account.

The United States is in talks with the Taliban to end the more than 17-year-old war. U.S. and Taliban negotiators wrapped up their sixth round of peace talks on Thursday with "some progress" on a draft agreement for when foreign troops might withdraw from Afghanistan.

But there is concern that the over-stretched Afghan forces could crumble if U.S. troops leave. On Wednesday, Afghan forces fought for hours against Taliban insurgents who killed at least four civilians.

The remainder of the money will come from a chemical demilitarization program, retirement account, military funds for Pakistan, and Air Force programs.

The move is likely to anger Congress. Lawmakers have hinted that they could create new restrictions on the Pentagon's authority to move money around, which officials have used in the past to deal with natural disasters and emergencies.

Immigration is a signature issue of Trump's presidency and re-election campaign. He declared a national emergency this year to try to redirect funding to build a border wall.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by David Gregorio and James Dalgleish)

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Updated Date: May 11, 2019 01:05:42 IST