Pentagon Wants Nearly $100B More For Wars

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The Pentagon wants the White House to seek another $99.7 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to information provided to The Associated Press.

The military's request, if embraced by President Bush and approved by Congress, would boost this year's budget for the wars to about $170 billion.

Military planners put the proposal together at a time when Mr. Bush is considering new strategies for the conflict in Iraq, including plans to quickly send thousands of additional troops to the war-ravaged country. Pentagon planners assembled the blueprint before President Bush said he was considering that option.

In Iraq Wednesday, U.S. forces ceded control of southern Najaf province to Iraqi police and soldiers, who marked the occasion Wednesday with a parade and martial arts demonstrations. But doubts remain about whether the Iraqis, vulnerable to insurgent attacks and militia infiltration, can handle security in more volatile provinces anytime soon. The handover of Najaf came as new Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited Baghdad, seeking advice from top commanders on a new strategy for an increasingly unpopular war just two days after taking charge at the Pentagon. Roadside bombs took the lives of two more U.S. soldiers, one in Baghdad and the other southwest of the capital.

Overall, the war in Iraq has so far cost about $350 billion. Combined with the conflict in Afghanistan and operations against terrorism elsewhere around the world, the cost to taxpayers has exceeded $500 billion, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

The additional funds, if approved, would push this year's cost of the war in Iraq about $50 billion higher than the record set last year. In September, Congress approved an initial $70 billion for the current budget year.

A description of the Pentagon request was provided by a person familiar with the proposal who asked for anonymity because the person was not authorized to release the information.

The cost of the war has risen dramatically as the security situation has deteriorated and more equipment is destroyed or worn out in harsh conditions. The Army, which has borne the brunt of the fighting, would receive about half of the request, a reflection of the wear and tear the war has had on soldiers and their equipment.

Another $9.8 billion is being sought for training and equipping Iraq's and Afghanistan's security forces.

The administration's request for more Iraq money will be submitted along with Mr. Bush's February budget for the 2008 budget year, which starts next Oct. 1. The White House can add or subtract from the Pentagon request as it sees fit, and the total could grow if money is added for reconstruction costs.

In a memo several weeks ago, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England encouraged the services to include in their budget requests projects connected to the broader fight against terrorism, as opposed to costs strictly limited to Iraq and Afghanistan. Critics have said that could be interpreted to cover almost anything.

The budget request includes:

$41.5 billion to cover the costs of ongoing military operations.
$26.7 billion for replacing and repairing equipment damaged or destroyed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
$10 billion for body armor and other equipment to protect U.S. troops from attack.
$2.5 billion to combat roadside bombs and other improvised explosive devices.
$2.7 billion for intelligence activities.

Whatever request emerges from the Bush administration will go to a new Congress controlled by Democrats highly critical of the Iraq war and Mr. Bush's handling of it.

Even so, there is much sentiment among Democrats to protect troops and much fear about being portrayed as unsympathetic to men and women in uniform. These factors probably would overwhelm any efforts by anti-war Democrats to use the debate over the Iraq money to take on President Bush's conduct of the war.

However, Democrats have promised to give the upcoming request greater scrutiny than Republicans did when considering Mr. Bush's previous requests.

Jim Manley, a spokesman for Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., told CBS News: "Democrats are committed to ensuring our troops have all that they need, but we're going to return oversight to spending on the war. Our troops must have everything they need, but Halliburton shouldn't get everything it wants."
  • Christine Lagorio

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