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2008 SPENDING PROPOSAL: MILITARY, HEALTHCARE

Troop buildup's cost is absent from war column

February 06, 2007|Peter Spiegel | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration's $142-billion war budget for next year leaves out money for the planned troop buildup in Iraq, a strong indication that the Pentagon views the increase as a short-term tactic to stem the escalating violence in Baghdad.

But Defense officials could not provide assurances Monday that the troop level would fall back again by next year, and acknowledged they may be forced to return to Congress for more money to pay for the extra forces if sectarian conflict continues to rage.

In unveiling the Defense Department's budget request, Tina Jonas, the Pentagon budget director, told reporters that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates provided instructions to treat the troop increase as "a near-term initiative" that would not need to be accounted for in the 2008 budget. But Jonas acknowledged those assumptions could change.

"I think we know that it will be wrong," Jonas said of the war-cost estimate.

"Obviously, things will change and we'll have to adjust at that point."

President Bush announced last month that he would send 21,500 additional U.S. troops to Iraq to help stem violence, a move that was widely criticized in Congress and met with disapproval by the American public.

The issue of how long the troop level will remain higher is highly sensitive within the Pentagon as well, with apparent disagreements over its size and duration occurring even between the outgoing and incoming commanders in Iraq.

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$725 billion for defense

The $142-billion war budget submitted Monday was part of a complicated defense spending package that surpassed $725 billion. It also included $481 billion for non-war defense spending in 2008 and a $93-billion supplemental request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through the remainder of 2007.

Added to $70 billion approved last year for 2007 war spending, the extra $93 billion requested by Bush would bring this year's war spending total to $163 billion.

Congressional Democrats charged that, even without money for the additional troops, the war funding request is so high that it shows that the White House has no intention of reducing the U.S. presence in Iraq before next year's presidential election.

"The new funding requests for the war in Iraq submitted today give the American people no hope that President Bush has plans to reduce our military involvement in Iraq for the foreseeable future -- in fact, just the opposite," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco).

The 2008 budget -- which covers the fiscal year, October 2007 through September 2008 -- includes projections that show war spending dropping to $50 billion in 2009.

Bush hastened to say that that projection did not foretell a reduction in the U.S. presence, and administration officials said the 2009 figure was seen as a "placeholder" to be adjusted in the future.

The Pentagon said Bush's decision to increase troops in Iraq would cost $5.6 billion through the end of 2007, a figure that officials said would cover the buildup for at least eight months. That was well below a Congressional Budget Office estimate issued last week that argued the cost could spiral to $27 billion for a yearlong buildup because of the number of support personnel needed to deploy an additional 21,500 combat troops.

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Long-term plans

Even without the additional funding for the escalation in 2008, however, there were signs of the administration's commitment to a long-term presence in Iraq in their budget proposals, including hundreds of millions of dollars for military bases in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

The 2007 portion of the budget includes a $318-million request for construction in Iraq, most of which will fund projects on two of the military's huge bases within the country: Al Asad Air Base in western Anbar province and Balad Air Base north of Baghdad.

It also asks for $650 million for military construction in Afghanistan, nearly half of it for projects at Bagram Air Base, the sprawling facility north of Kabul that serves as the military's prime operations center in the country.

In testimony shortly after becoming Defense secretary, Gates told the House Armed Services Committee that the U.S. did not want permanent bases in Iraq. But both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill remain skeptical. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) reintroduced legislation last month that would prevent the U.S. from establishing permanent bases in Iraq, a bill that has in the past garnered bipartisan support.

Despite the prospect of continued high troop levels in Iraq, the budget also assumes the Iraqi security forces will begin to take over more responsibilities by next year.

U.S. funding for the Iraqi security forces would rise 83% in 2007, to $5.5 billion, under the new proposals. But the funding would drop to $2 billion in 2008. By that time, according to budget documents, the Pentagon assumes the government of Iraq "will have taken on primary financial responsibility for sustaining the Iraqi security forces."

Afghan forces would get an even larger influx of funding in the proposed budget: $7.4 billion for the Afghan army and police, nearly triple last year's amount. However, funding for security forces is due to drop to $2.7 billion by 2008.

The Pentagon also for the first time detailed the cost of increasing the size of the Army and Marine Corps over the next five years, saying the additional 92,000 soldiers and Marines would add $117.6 billion through 2013. That includes $5.3 billion to be spent this year and an additional $18.6 billion for 2008.

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peter.spiegel@latimes.com

Times staff writer Julian E. Barnes contributed to this report.

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