WASHINGTON: Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates asked the Senate today to pass the fiscal 2009 supplemental funding request it’s considering by Memorial Day.
Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee on the $83.4 billion budget request today.
Most of the request – about $76 billion – would go to the Defense Department and would directly support operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Gates said. Most of the rest would fund State Department operations.
The pending legislation is the second half of the fiscal 2009 supplemental funding request. Congress passed $65.9 billion in supplemental spending earlier this year. If the second portion is approved, the total package would be $141.7 billion.
Gates stressed that this will be the last supplemental funding request. “This is intended to be the last planned war supplemental request that the administration will make,” Gates said. “Future budgets – starting with [fiscal] 2010 – will instead be presented together, with money for overseas contingency operations clearly marked as such.”
Moving funding to the base budget will ensure that funding for programs that directly affect warfighters will receive the support they need in the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill, Gates said. This move will “most directly affect our nation’s greatest strategic asset: our troops, and the families that support them,” he said.
Gates broke down the request. Some $38 billion covers the everyday costs of maintaining forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, from pre-deployment training and transportation to or from theater to the operations themselves. “This supplemental takes into account planned reductions in troop numbers in Iraq this year, and increases in Afghanistan,” Gates said.
Another $11.6 billion is set aside to replace and repair equipment that has been worn out, damaged or destroyed in Iraq and Afghanistan. This includes money for four F-22 fighter jets to replace an F-15 and three F-16s classified as combat losses.
Another $9.8 billion will go for force protection. This will fund the mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle program that aims to put all-terrain vehicles into Afghanistan. The money also would fund body armor, aircraft survivability equipment, unmanned aircraft systems and equipment and vehicles to detect and clear mines.
A further $3.6 billion is slotted to expand and improve the Afghan security forces, but the request calls for no money to fund Iraqi forces. “The government of Iraq has taken on that financial burden,” Gates explained.
The supplemental funding bill includes $1.5 billion to counter the threats of roadside bombs, $450 million for the Commander’s Emergency Response Program, and $400 million for the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund.
The Pakistan Fund will allow the U.S. Central Command commander to work with Pakistan’s military to build the nation’s counterinsurgency capability. “We are asking for this unique authority for the unique and urgent circumstances we face in Pakistan – for dealing with a challenge that simultaneously requires wartime and peacetime capabilities,” Gates said.
The supplemental measure also includes $2.2 billion to finish the expansion of the Army and Marine Corps. “Due to higher-than-expected recruiting and retention rates, we are well ahead of schedule to expand the Army and Marine Corps – which will help ease the burden on our troops and help reduce – with the goal of ending – stop-loss,” Gates said, citing a policy that allows the military to hold on to certain servicemembers past the expiration of their enlistment contract.
Wounded warrior care and programs to improve the quality of life for troops and their families account for $1.6 billion in the funding request, Gates said, emphasizing that quick action on the request is necessary.
“As was the case last year, the Department of Defense will have to be prepared for continued operations in the absence of the supplemental or another bridge fund,” Gates said.
Some operational funds will begin to run out in July, and that historically has affected the Army and the Marine Corps first. “After Memorial Day, we will need to consider options to delay running out of funds,” he said. “We also expect to run out of money to reimburse Pakistan by mid-May. I urge you to take up this bill and pass it as quickly as possible, but please not later than Memorial Day.”
The symbolism of the two secretaries appearing together was not lost on the senators. The departments of Defense and State must work together. The supplemental measure includes $7.1 billion for international affairs and stabilization activities, including economic assistance for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“Needless to say, I strongly support this funding,” Gates said. “As I have said for the last two years, I believe that the challenges confronting our nation cannot be dealt with by military means alone. They require, instead, whole-of-government approaches – but that can only be done if the State Department is given resources befitting the scope of its mission across the globe. This is particularly important in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where our ability to provide resources beyond military power will be the decisive factor.”
Gates said he and Clinton are dedicated to figuring out how best to bring to bear the full force of the entire U.S. government on the pressing issues of the day.
“So I ask you to continue supporting not just our men and women in uniform, but the men and women at the State Department who are just as committed to the safety and security of the United States,” the defense secretary said.