Washington: The cost of fighting the war in Afghanistan will overtake that of the Iraq conflict for the first time in 2010, Pentagon budget documents showed Thursday.
On top of the basic defense budget of 533.7 billion dollars, the White House is requesting a further 130 billion dollars for overseas missions, including 65 billion for Afghanistan and 61 billion for Iraq.
“This request is where you’re going to first see the swing of not only dollars or resources, but combat capability, from the Iraqi theater into the Afghan theater,” Navy Vice Admiral Steve Stanley, director of force structure for the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters.
Some 136,000 US troops are currently stationed in Iraq, but they are set to be progressively withdrawn by the end of 2011, in accordance with a security pact signed between Washington and Baghdad in late 2008.
The withdrawal from Iraq will be accompanied by a buildup in Afghanistan, which President Barack Obama has made a priority of his administration, dispatching 21,000 extra troops to the region to combat an emboldened insurgency.
US forces in Afghanistan are set to reach 68,000 by the end of this year.
The United States has about 45,000 troops in Afghanistan, the bulk of a foreign deployment of roughly 70,000 soldiers tasked with hunting down armed Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants, as well as stabilizing the country.
The funds are part of a total 663.7-billion-dollar Pentagon spending plan that aims “to try to reshape the military to have more capability to fight irregular and unconventional war while maintaining a balance of conventional capability, and modernize with those themes in mind,” budget documents said.
The 130 billion dollars for “overseas contingency operations,” include a 1.5-billion-dollar “Commander’s Emergency Response Program” to fund urgent reconstruction and humanitarian aid needs on the ground.
In 2009, funds for that program had been equally distributed between Iraq and Afghanistan, which each received 700 million dollars. But in 2010, the bulk of the funds — 1.2 billion dollars — will go to Afghanistan.
The Defense Department is also requesting 700 million dollars to “accelerate the development of Pakistan’s counterinsurgency capabilities and operations in support of US efforts” in Afghanistan, according to budget documents.
Obama, who has unveiled a regional approach to the war in Afghanistan, has pledged 1.5 billion dollars over five years in military and financial aid to Pakistan, which he has placed at the center of the fight against Al-Qaeda.
The plan includes a focus on Al-Qaeda sanctuaries in Pakistan’s lawless western border region and boosting civilian efforts to build up both Afghanistan and Pakistan, notably in agriculture and education.