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Bush Requests Half A Trillion Dollars For Next Defense Budget

US acceptance of Iraqi refugees speeds up
The United States has accelerated its absorption of Iraqi refugees since October, but will likely have difficulty achieving its target of 12,000 for fiscal year 2008, official figures showed Monday. According to the State Department's special coordinator for refugees from Iraq, 375 Iraqis arrived in the United States in January with refugee status, taking to 1,432 the total absorbed since October, the beginning of the fiscal year. That figure represented a quicker pace of acceptance over fiscal 2007, when a total of 3,040 refugees from the war-torn country arrived in the United States. But the pace was far behind the 12,000 targeted for fiscal 2008. "This is a tall order but it remains attainable," Foley told reporters.

"While we will not cross the thousand arrivals (per month) threshold until some time in the spring, we are confident that we will have substantial numbers of arrivals in the fourth quarter of the fiscal year and thus we continue to aim for 12,000 arrivals by the end of September." Foley said that immigration interviews and investigations for refugees had been sped up. About 3,300 preliminary application investigations have been handled since October, according to government records.

The government expects to handle 5,500 more between January and March, and up to 8,000 in the March-June period, according to Foley. The 12,000 Iraqis expected to be accepted took refuge in Jordan, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Gulf countries, and are being helped by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to apply to come to the United States. In addition, Washington has said it would accept annually 500 Iraqis working directly with the US government -- translators, interpreters and their families -- through a special visa program. Moreover, under legislation recently adopted in Congress, up to 5,000 Iraqis who have worked for the US government and are considered living under serious threat of retribution in Iraq could be accepted for resettlement into the United States each year.

The UNHCR estimates that about 4.2 million Iraqis have fled their homes since the US-led invasion in March 2003. About two million of them are internally-displaced refugees. Another 1.4 million are in Syria and 750,000 in Jordan. The US government has come under criticism from both Congress and non-governmental organizations for its sluggish reception of Iraqi refugees. AFP file image of Iraqi refugees.

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Feb 4, 2008
US President George W. Bush proposed Monday a 515.4-billion-dollar defense budget, finishing out his presidency with record levels of military spending propelled by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The White House also asked for an additional 70 billion dollars as a downpayment on the cost of another year of military operations in the Middle East.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the Pentagon will make a further request for war funding in the spring when military commanders have a clearer idea of their requirements.

General David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq, is to make recommendations as early as next month on whether a drawdown in US forces can continue beyond the planned return home of as many as 30,000 "surge" troops.

"We are awaiting further detail from the combatant commander," said Tina Jonas, the Pentagon comptroller. "And there need to be some deliberations regarding what his needs and requests and requirements are."

The fiscal 2009 budget request represents a 7.5 percent increase over the previous year and will bring US defense spending to 3.4 percent of the gross domestic product.

"The budget request provides the resources needed to prevail in current conflicts, while preparing the department for a range of challenges that our nation may face in the years ahead," Gates said.

Gates said that the proposed spending levels are low as a percentage of GDP when compared to the US military spending during the wars in Korea or Vietnam.

But analysts said that, when war costs are added, the proposed 2009 defense budget is likely to be the largest in real terms since the end of World War II.

Steven Kosiak, an expert at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, questioned whether it can be sustained at a time of ballooning budget deficits and competing claims for funds. The 2009 federal budget unveiled Monday surpassed 3.1 trillion dollars.

"This suggests that within the next few years some hard choices will need to be made concerning DoD's plans and budget levels," Kosiak said. "But those choices will have to wait until the next administration enters office."

Jonas acknowledged that key procurement issues, such as how many F-22 fighters to buy, will be left to the next administration to resolve.

The White House highlighted increased spending to expand the size of the army, marines, and special operations forces.

It said it will invest 20.5 billion dollars to increase the size of the active duty army to 547,000 in 2010, and the marines to 202,000.

Another 5.7 billion dollars will go to the US Special Operations Command to train and equip its elite forces "to address a wider spectrum of potential threats."

The proposed budget also calls for 49.1 billion dollars to recruit, train, equip and sustain the National Guard and Reserve, which have been deployed extensively in recent years for combat duty.

The Pentagon's day-to-day military operating budget, which does not include the cost of the wars, would be 159.7 billion dollars under the proposed budget.

Giving the services an added recruiting and retention tool, the budget calls for a 3.4-percent raise in military pay.

Another 750 million dollars has been earmarked to help allies develop military capabilities, the White House said.

It calls for 389 million dollars for the creation of a new command for Africa.

Spending on weapons procurement goes up to 104.2 billion dollars from an estimated 99 billion in 2008 under the proposed budget, while military research and development would get 79.6 billion dollars, up from an estimated 76.5 billion dollars.

The proposed budget sets aside 17.3 billion dollars to modernize US tactical aircraft, buy new fighter aircraft for the air force, navy and marine corps, and to acquire aerial refueling aircraft.

The European aerospace giant EADS and its US partner Northrop Grumman are in a fierce competition with Boeing for a huge air force contract to produce air refueling aircraft.

The proposed budget allocates 10.4 billion dollars for missile defense systems, which the United States wants to expand to Europe.

The United States plans to install interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic to counter what Washington says is a looming missile threat from Iran.

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