Obama to seek $83.4bn for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
- guardian.co.uk, Thursday 9 April 2009 22.46 BST
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US president Barack Obama is seeking $83.4bn (£56.8bn) for US military and diplomatic operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, pressing for special troop funding that he opposed two years ago when he was a senator and George Bush was president.
Obama’s request, including money to send thousands more troops into Afghanistan, would push the costs of the two wars to almost $1tn since the 9/11 terror attacks against the US in 2001, according to the Congressional Research Service. The additional money would cover operations into the latter months of this year.
Obama also is requesting $400m to upgrade security along the US-Mexico border and to combat narcoterrorists.
Budget office spokesman Tom Gavin said the White House would send an official request to Congress this afternoon. Congressional aides who had been briefed on the request revealed its overall cost in advance.
Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, acknowledged that Obama had been critical of Bush’s use of similar special legislation to pay for the wars. He said it was needed this time because the money will be required by summer, before Congress is likely to complete its normal appropriations process. “This will be the last supplemental for Iraq and Afghanistan. The process by which this has been funded over the course of the past many years, the president has discussed and will change,” Gibbs said.
The request is likely to win easy approval from the Democratic-controlled Congress, despite frustration among some liberals over the pace of troop withdrawals and Obama’s plans for a large residual force of up to 50,000 troops, about one-third of the total now, who will train Iraqis, protect US assets and personnel and conduct anti-terror operations.
“The reality is the alternative to the supplemental is a sudden and precipitous withdrawal of the United States from both places and I don’t know anybody who thinks that’s a good idea,” said US defence secretary Robert Gates. “The reality is it would put everything we have achieved in Iraq at tremendous risk, and I believe it would greatly endanger our troops.”
“This funding will do two things: it will prolong our occupation of Iraq through at least the end of 2011, and it will deepen and expand our military presence in Afghanistan indefinitely,” said Democratic anti-war Representative Lynn Woolsey. “Instead of attempting to find military solutions to the problems we face in Iraq and Afghanistan, President Obama must fundamentally change the mission in both countries to focus on promoting reconciliation, economic development, humanitarian aid and regional diplomatic efforts.”
House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio predicted Republicans would support the request overwhelmingly, provided congressional Democrats do not seek to “micromanage” the war by adding a timeline or other restrictions on the ability of military officials to carry on the fight.
He said the measure is required to pay for the new strategy in Afghanistan and the drawdown of combat troops in Iraq. The White House plans for future war expenses to be part of the annual legislation appropriating money for the defence department.
Obama was a harsh critic of the Iraq war as a presidential candidate, which attracted support from the Democratic party’s liberal base and helped him secure the party’s nomination. He opposed two infusions of war money in 2007 after Bush used a veto to force Congress to remove a withdrawal timeline from the $99bn measure.
He supported a war-funding bill last year that also included about $25bn for domestic programmes. Obama also voted for war funding in 2006, before he announced his candidacy for president.
The coming request will include $75.8bn for the military and more than $7bn in foreign aid. Pakistan, a key ally in the fight against al-Qaida, will receive $400m in aid to combat insurgents.
The outlines of the request were provided in documents presented at a private congressional briefing.
According to the documents, obtained by the Associated Press, the request would pay for an average force level in Iraq of 140,000 troops, with force levels in Afghanistan rising to 45,000. It would also provide $2.2bn to accelerate into this year implementation of the Pentagon’s plans to increase the overall size of US forces, including a 547,400-person active duty US army.
The coming debate in Congress is likely to provide an early test of Obama’s efforts to remake the Pentagon and its much-criticised weapons procurement system. He is requesting four F-22 fighter jets costing about $600m as part of the war funding package but wants to shut the F-22 programme down after that.
The special measure would include $3.6bn for the Afghanistan national army.
The White House wants the bill for the president’s signature by the Memorial Day holiday, 25 May, said a Democratic aide in the House of Representatives.
Obama announced plans in February to withdraw US troops from Iraq on a 19-month timetable, with the last service members out of Iraq by the end of 2011.
His new request would push the war money approved for 2009 to about $150bn. The totals were $171bn for 2007 and $188bn for 2008, the year Bush increased the tempo of military operations in a generally successful effort to quell the Iraq insurgency.