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The nation’s top military leaders warned Congress in unusually stark terms that its failure to pass a 2013 defense budget — coupled with the threat of automatic budget cuts — has pushed the Pentagon to the brink of a crisis.

They wrote in a joint letter to congressional leaders that the readiness of U.S. armed forces is at a “tipping point.”

A copy of the letter was provided Wednesday to The Associated Press.

The military leaders said that troops in combat and those who are being treated for wounds will get the funds needed. But the rest of the force will be severely compromised if the Pentagon has to continue operating on last year’s budget.

“We are on the brink of creating a hollow force,” said the letter signed by the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and National Guard, as well as the chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.