War Bill Approved as Afghan Conflict Tops Iraq in Cost, Troops
The U.S. Senate approved a $60 billion war-funding bill last night as the conflict in Afghanistan has exceeded the Iraq war in annual cost and number of troops.
Senators voted 67-28 for the measure, which goes to the House for consideration next month. Opposing the legislation were 26 Republicans and two Democrats.
The vote came after lawmakers rejected a proposal to require President Barack Obama to submit a non-binding report outlining when he plans to end U.S. involvement in the almost nine-year-old Afghan conflict.
“The American people deserve an answer to the question: How much longer?” said Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold, who sponsored the amendment that was defeated 80-18. The funding bill “will add some $30 billion more to the almost $300 billion we’ve already spent in Afghanistan with no end in sight,” he said.
The bill would set aside about $30 billion for Obama’s plan to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. The administration has said it intends to begin bringing them home in July 2011, without specifying when it plans to complete the withdrawal.
Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said requiring Obama to report when he plans to withdraw U.S. troops altogether would signal plans to abandon Afghanistan to the Taliban.
That would be “a particularly unwise message” to send “while the Taliban is doing everything it can to convince the Afghan people that U.S., NATO and Afghan troops are unable to protect them,” said Levin.
Among the 17 Democrats and one independent backing Feingold’s amendment were Dick Durbin of Illinois and Charles Schumer of New York, the second- and third-ranking Democratic leaders in the Senate.
“I think it’s reasonable for the president to tell us his plans,” said Durbin. “We need to have an exit strategy.”
Asked yesterday at a news conference when he plans to end the U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, Obama said: “We are going to strengthen the capacity of the Afghan military and we are going to get them stood up in a way that allows us then to start drawing down our troops.”
It’s “a big messy process, but we are making progress,” the president said.
The number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan eclipsed those in Iraq this month, with about 94,000 in Afghanistan and 92,000 in Iraq, according to the Defense Department. The troop buildup is one reason why Afghan war costs will top those in Iraq this year for the first time since the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003.
The legislation would bring total Defense Department funding for the Afghan war to about $100 billion, with Iraq costs this year amounting to approximately $60 billion. Last year Congress gave the Pentagon $92 billion for the Iraq war and $56 billion for Afghanistan.
Total war costs this year would be more than the annual total in all but two years of former President George W. Bush’s administration. War costs peaked at $187 billion in 2008 amid the troop surge in Iraq. The total dating to the beginnings of the two conflicts would reach $1.1 trillion.
Even though there are similar numbers of troops in both countries, the conflict in Afghanistan costs the government more per service member in part because the country’s infrastructure is more primitive than in Iraq.
“In one country, you’re working with a country that has an infrastructure and in the other case, working with a country that does not,” said foreign policy professor Gordon Adams of American University in Washington. “You have to airlift a lot of stuff into Afghanistan.”
The war bill also includes $68 million to help pay cleanup costs from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Another $5 billion would go to disaster relief elsewhere.
The bill sets aside $13.4 billion to pay for a Department of Veterans Affairs decision to expand the number of ailments presumed to be tied to use of the defoliant Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.
Lawmakers expect 86,000 veterans or their survivors to be eligible for retroactive compensation totaling $12.3 billion. Another 67,400 new claims would be filed costing $1.1 billion, according to the Senate Appropriations Committee.