Obama To Spend More on Afghanistan, Less on Iraq War

$130 billion budget for 2 wars includes more money for Afghan front for the first time

President Barack Obama's proposed defense budget includes $130 billion for the nation's two wars, a figure that may not be enough.

And his Democratic allies in Congress are threatening to set conditions that must be met before that money is handed out.

Obama sent to Congress on Thursday details of his proposed $664 billion Pentagon spending plan for the budget year starting in October. It includes $534 billion for base defense programs and $130 billion for overseas operations, including the wars he's ramping down in Iraq and ramping up in Afghanistan.

The budget aims to cover what the Defense Department needs "to fight the wars we are in today and the scenarios we are most likely to face in the years ahead, while at the same time providing a hedge against other risks and contingencies," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in a statement released in Washington as he traveled in Afghanistan.

The $130 billion for overseas missions included $65 billion for Afghanistan and $61 billion for Iraq — the first time spending for the seven-year-old Afghan campaign has surpassed the one in Iraq.

"This request is where you're going to first see the swing of not only dollars or resources but ... capability from the Iraqi theater into the Afghanistan theater," Navy Vice Adm. Steve Stanley, director of force structure for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Pentagon news conference.

A Pentagon summary of the budget request said the war spending proposal "is intended to fund all currently known requirements for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for the entire fiscal year."

But it hedged by also saying the plan is the "administration's best estimate of needs at this time."

Although officials hope not to have to go back to Congress for more, "the administration reserves the right to seek additional funds in the event that there are significant changes in the security situation" or in the number of troops needed in either of the wars, it said.

Under pressure from Congress to develop ways to measure progress in Afghanistan, officials have said the administration is readying benchmarks to gauge security, governance and economic development there. The effort comes as lawmakers warn that Congress may try to condition budget approval for the Afghanistan war on whether improvements are being made on a number of fronts.

Lawmakers frustrated with the Bush administration adopted their own set of measures to judge progress in the Iraq war, leading some to suggest that they would do the same for Afghanistan unless the Obama administration acts promptly to set its own.

The benchmarks are expected to measure levels of violence, improvements in the Afghan security forces, counternarcotics efforts, agricultural programs, economic development and services for the Afghan people.

Meanwhile Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee approved a bill that includes funding of the wars for the remainder of this fiscal year. That's $96.7 billion for military and diplomatic efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan through September, nearly $12 billion more than Obama sought.

Closing the U.S. naval prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, dominated the committee debate over the bill, as Republicans warned that the Obama administration was preparing to release dangerous killers into American neighborhoods and Democrats accused the GOP of fear-mongering.

Ultimately, Republican attempts to prevent the Guantanamo facility from being closed were defeated along party lines in the House Appropriations Committee. However, the panel refused to give Obama the $50 million he had requested to relocate Guantanamo prisoners and it demanded a detailed plan from the White House by Oct. 1 on the future of the facility. Obama has ordered Guantanamo, which now houses 241 terror suspects, closed by January.

In other developments Thursday, the Senate acted to revamp Pentagon purchasing practices that have led to billions of dollars in cost overruns and delays in getting weapons to U.S. forces at war. The 93-0 Senate vote on the acquisitions overhaul legislation came as the House Armed Services Committee moved to approve similar legislation.

Obama has pushed for improvements in weapons procurement and urged Congress to get a bill to his desk before Memorial Day. Gates has also made procurement overhaul a priority, and on Wednesday Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn told Congress that the Pentagon plans to add 20,000 personnel over five years to ride herd on contracts, cost estimates and oversight.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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