In a Tuesday statement, Begich says he received a letter from Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz, who wrote that the Eielson delay comes after Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told the Air Force to suspend all force structure adjustments until Congress completes action on defense budget bills.
"In compliance with the Secretary’s intent, the Air Force will not take action on the proposal to relocate the F-16s from Eielson Air Force Base until Congress has completed action on the (fiscal year) 2013 authorization and appropriations bills," Schwartz wrote. "If the bills, as enacted, prohibit the transfer of the F-16s from Eielson Air Force Base, the Air Force will not execute the relocation."
Begich praised the decision, saying it addressed objections to the plan raised in recent months.
“This is some of the best news I’ve had the chance to deliver to Alaskans: that the Air Force has recognized its proposal to move the 18th Aggressor Squadron was not well-vetted and analyzed, and that there is certainly no support in Congress for such action,” Begich said. “Eielson plays a vital role in the nation’s defense and I’m committed to defending that role.”
While Sen. Lisa Murkowski also hailed Tuesday's announcement, she was more guarded in declaring it a long-term victory.
“Along with many Alaskans, I am pleased to learn that the Pentagon is delaying the decision to move the F-16 Aggressors from Eielson Air Force Base to JBER," Murkowski said in a statement Tuesday. "But while today’s announcement provides us with breathing room, we need to use this time and opportunity to make today’s victory a permanent one for Alaska and the nation’s defense."
Rep. Don Young told Channel 2 Wednesday that he'd like to see this week's gains in the debate made permanent.
"The chances of them moving without future justification is not likely," Young said. "But again, as I said, this is a temporary battle won -- but I want to win the war."
An Air Force report projects more than $200 million in savings over five years from moving the 18th Aggressor Squadron to JBER and subsequently reducing base operations support services at Eielson.
The proposed move has drawn sharp protests from both Fairbanks officials and the state’s congressional delegation, who say the plan would make more than 500 airmen and their families leave the Interior, dealing a major economic blow to the region.
This is a developing story. Please check KTUU.com and the Channel 2 newscasts for updates.