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Pentagon to Request Billions More in War Money

NY Times | December 30, 2006
DAVID S. CLOUD

The Pentagon is seeking nearly $100 billion for operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, a request that, if approved by Congress, would set an annual record for war-related spending.

The $99.7 billion request, detailed in a 17-page internal Defense Department memorandum dated Dec. 7, would be in addition to $70 billion appropriated in September. The request would push the total for the 2007 fiscal year to nearly $170 billion, 45 percent more than Congress provided for 2006.

The request is likely to receive more scrutiny from Congress next year than previous supplemental spending bills, in part because Democrats now control both the House and Senate. Another reason for the scrutiny is that Pentagon officials encouraged the services to ask for “costs related to the longer war against terror,” not just continuing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a memorandum that became public earlier this year.

About $50 billion — most of the money — would go to the Army, which is conducting the bulk of the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The request also includes $3.8 billion for the Air Force and $3 billion for the Navy to buy or upgrade aircraft. Both services have argued in recent months that they need to replace planes used in combat operations.

But some experts questioned whether the services were exploiting the must-pass nature of the supplemental bill to seek money for other purposes like the modernization of aircraft rather than just wartime replacements. Loren Thompson, a defense analyst with the Lexington Institute, a policy analysis organization in Virginia, pointed to the Air Force request for $62 million for ballistic missiles, a weapon not being employed in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Mr. Thompson said the request, which is not described further in the memorandum, may be part of a continuing Air Force project to arm ballistic missiles with conventional warheads to be able to strike terrorist targets quickly if other weapons cannot be used.

Even so, he added, “there are a number of weapons systems in the supplemental request not normally associated with fighting terrorists but which the services say still should be covered as part of the global effort.”

Altogether, the four military services would receive $26.6 billion for “reconstitution,” a term that the memorandum said covered repair and replacement of equipment damaged in Iraq and Afghanistan. Along with the $50 billion already provided this year, that is more than double what Congress appropriated in 2006.

“There is a real question about how much of this is really related to the war,” said Steve Kosiak, a defense budget expert with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington policy analysis group.

The Pentagon is also seeking $9.7 billion for training Iraqi and Afghan security forces, almost as much as has been spent in total since 2001, according to a study by the Congressional Research Service. In a reflection of the worsening security situation in Afghanistan, more than half of the requested money would go to training the country's army and police forces.

The request also underscores the continuing strain that deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan are putting on ground forces. The request includes $3.7 billion to speed up its outfitting and training of two Army combat brigades and three Marine battalions.

Since 2001, Congress has approved $507 billion for Afghanistan, Iraq and other operations deemed part of combating terrorism. Even with the Democrats in control, there is unlikely to be much appetite for cutting the war-related spending requests, Mr. Kosiak said.

“No one seems to be saying we're going to make deep cuts in war-related expenditures,” he said. “I don't see evidence that the Democrats are interested in cutting this.”

But the incoming Democratic chairmen of the House and Senate Budget Committees have said they will push the Bush administration to finance war costs in regular appropriations bills, not in supplemental spending measures, to make the costs clearer.

The request also includes $10 billion for protective equipment for troops and $2.5 billion for technology to defeat improvised bombs, the leading cause of American combat casualties in Iraq.

 

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