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Gates: Department Will Shield Troops from Funding Shortfall

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 3, 2007 – The Defense Department will take “every action necessary for as long as possible,” to ensure that troops fighting in Iraq are not affected by the delay in approval of its supplemental war funding, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said yesterday.

The longer the supplemental funding goes unapproved, the greater the financial disruptions on the Army, but most of those will be absorbed as monies are transferred from accounts for U.S. construction, training, hiring and travel and funneled to supporting the war, Gates told Pentagon reporters.

President Bush on May 1 vetoed an emergency war-funding bill that included timelines for withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.

The $124 billion bill, passed by Congress last week, would have funded the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also included domestic spending measures and called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq beginning by October, with the goal of getting all combat forces out of Iraq by March 2008.

Bush called the bill unacceptable because it mandates artificial timelines for troop withdrawal, which he said would embolden the enemy and discourage the Iraqi people.

Gates responded to questions by reporters on the impact of a delay in approving supplemental funding after a briefing announcing a newly created oversight committee for wounded warrior care in the military.

He said that preset timelines for troop withdrawal would be a mistake. Insurgents would simply wait for U.S. troops to withdraw while bolstering their forces in anticipation, Gates said.

“If you pick a certain date and say the troops are coming out on a certain date, everybody basically just gets to sit back and say, ‘OK, we got 90 or 100 days that we've got to wait,’” Gates said.

“All that al Qaeda and Jaysh al-Mahdi and all the rest have to do is say, ‘You know, We've got X days until these guys are gone. So husband your resources. All we have to do is make the run for the money in a specific period of time,’” Gates said. “As long as there's some uncertainty about that, it seems to me that they don't have that luxury.”

Gates conceded, though, that the debate over a troop withdrawal is “useful in terms of letting the Iraqis fully understand the impatience here at home and the importance of their getting on with their domestic reconciliation and the importance of the political reconciliation to the success of the enterprise in Iraq.”

The president requested a $93.4 billion emergency supplemental measure in February to cover the cost of operations in the war on terror for the remainder of fiscal 2007. This was in addition to the $70 billion Congress previously had provided. The supplemental budget provides $39.3 billion to sustain warfighting operations, including supplies, support and maintenance, according to documents released by the Defense Department.

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