WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Robert Gates is urging Congress to pass an $83.4 billion spending bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by Memorial Day, saying the Pentagon will deplete its funding for Pakistan next month and money for U.S. operations will start running out in July.
Money and support for Pakistan, including bolstering its military operations along the border, have been central issues in the administration's new strategy for the Afghanistan war. President Barack Obama and other top officials are expected to meet with Pakistani leaders next week.
"After Memorial Day, we will need to consider options to delay running out of funds," Gates said Thursday to the Senate Appropriations Committee. Money to reimburse Pakistan, which conducts operations along the border with Afghanistan, will run out in mid-May, he said.
Gates testified alongside Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The bulk of the spending bill is for military operations, but $7.1 billion is for the State Department for international affairs and stabilization activities, including funds for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The proposed Pentagon aid to Pakistan includes a new $400 million fund that will be used to train and equip the Pakistani military to fight insurgents within its own borders. The money would be the first installment of a five-year, $3 billion plan.
"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 Obama administration also is close to finalizing plans to provide training for the Pakistani military at a location outside Pakistan. While the site has not been decided, a senior administration official said Wednesday that the issue would come up in next week's meetings.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the issue still was in discussion, said the expanded training comes in response to a request from Pakistan.
The war spending measure also includes:
- $38 billion to maintain forces on the two warfronts, taking into account the expected decrease in troops in Iraq and the planned increase in troops in Afghanistan.
- $11.6 billion to replace and repair equipment that has been worn out, damaged or destroyed in the wars, including four F-22 fighters.
- $9.8 billion for body armor and other protection
- $2.7 billion to buy 1,000 mine-resistant vehicles for Afghanistan, and other upgrades.
- $3.6 billion to expand and improve the Afghan National Security Forces.
The White House has said this will be the last special funding bill for Iraq and Afghanistan, as the money will largely be folded into the main Pentagon spending measure. When he was a member of the Senate, Obama was critical of the Bush administration's use of special supplemental bills for the wars.
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