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Senate Panel Wants Long-Term Iraq Plan

Soldiers continue to assist in Iraq despite funding cuts. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Pamela Hess
UPI Pentagon Correspondent
Washington (UPI) Apr 21, 2006
The Senate Appropriations Committee cut $200 million from the Pentagon's request for military construction funds in Iraq in early April, drawing a line in the sand between the Pentagon and Capitol Hill concerning the military's plans for a long-term presence in Iraq.

There are two main issues. First, Congress is growing increasingly impatient with the massive annual "emergency" supplemental requests that seem to fund projects that are not emergency in nature. They now total more than $300 billion. The latest is a $106 billion supplemental, $67.6 billion specifically for the Defense Department, roughly what the Pentagon requested.

While in many cases they fund urgent needs, Congress argues the Pentagon should have anticipated their costs and budgeted for them in its annual account, which in 2007 is expected to be more than $430 billion.

Emergency funding is appropriate in limited circumstances.

"The need must have been impossible to anticipate in time for inclusion in a regular budget request, or of such an urgent nature that construction of a facility must begin before regular appropriations would be available," the committee said in 2005, when it first complained

More nettlesome is the Pentagon's lack of a long-term plan for its troop presence in Iraq. It maintains U.S. troops presence will be determined by security conditions on the ground in Iraq, which can not be anticipated.

That answer does not hold much water with Capitol Hill, and it warned the Pentagon last year that the policy needs to be decided before long-term investments will be approved.

"The nature of the United States' long-term presence in the region remains largely undecided and should be determined before extensive investments in permanent facilities are made," the Senate Appropriations Committee wrote in its report on the 2005 supplemental, although it made only minor adjustments to the military construction request then.

The Pentagon may be forced to pay for its reluctance to define its future posture in Iraq. But the cost will be borne by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"It is the current policy of the United States to establish no permanent military bases in Iraq. The United States has not proposed to change that policy, and there is not yet a formalized means by which Iraq can accept or reject such a proposal were it offered," the Senate Appropriations Committee wrote in its report on the 2006 emergency supplemental. "The committee recommends approval of only those requested projects that immediately support operations ongoing in Iraq, rather than those requests which propose a longer-term presence. While these projects may indeed be of military value, they intend a more permanent presence than is the policy of the United States."

The Pentagon requested $413.4 million for the Army to build roads and improve electrical distribution and force protection on U.S. bases in Iraq. That amount would come on top of the Army's $1.7 billion military construction account for 2006. But the committee approved just $213 million, nearly halving the request in the emergency supplemental.

One of the hardest hit accounts is the Army's request for $167 million to build "urban by pass" roads meant to give troops a way around stretches of roads riddled with improvised explosive devices. The committee approved just $38.7 million.

"After discussion with Central Command officials, the committee remains unconvinced that building an extensive new system of roadways which lack any force protection will achieve the shared goal of Central Command and the committee to stop IED-related casualties. There are limited instances in which the committee believes bypassing urban areas will provide the desired benefit, and the committee has consequently recommended funding for these instances," the report states.

The committee also cut a $69 million request to move a convoy support center in Nasiriyah at Talil air base to $35 million. It cut a $13.6 million request for a dining facility down to $5.1 million, and cut two requests for waste and water treatment plants in Afghanistan totaling $22 million down to zero.

U.S. military officials in Iraq say improvements to bases are necessary because the U.S. is likely to have troops in Iraq and Afghanistan for years, albeit in smaller numbers than the 135,000 that are there now. They point out that 50 years after the Korean War, the United States maintains around 30,000 troops on Korean bases as a hedge against renewed hostilities.

Moreover, the long-term plan calls for the U.S. outposts to be reduced from more than 60 now to just 10 larger bases. Eventually, each of those bases is intended to be handed over to one of Iraq's 10 nascent army divisions.

"For now, we assume that everything we're building will be passed over to our Iraqi counterparts at some point in the future," a senior U.S. official in Iraq told UPI.

The timeline for that plan, however, hinges on the progress made in Iraq militarily, politically and economically.

"The idea that anybody has a mature, long-term view of our eventual role in Iraq and that that view has (been) transformed into a facilities support plan with a definition between temporary and 'permanent' base infrastructure may be a stretch," a senior military official told UPI on the condition of anonymity.

The Senate is expected to vote on the 2006 emergency supplemental appropriation next week.

Source: United Press International

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