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Supplemental Bill to Improve Quality of Life for Troops in Iraq

By K.L. Vantran
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 18, 2003 – Part of the $87.5 billion supplemental appropriations bill for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan signed earlier this month by President Bush will go toward improving quality of life for troops there.

"We want people to have air conditioning," Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller) and Chief Financial Officer Dov S. Zakheim said here Nov. 17. "We want them to have running water. We want them to have decent facilities to sleep in."

Zakheim said the troops who deployed to Afghanistan started out in "pretty miserable conditions." He said he's visited the country several times and can testify that things are improving every day.

"We want to do the same for our forces in Iraq," he continued. "They're going to be there. We don't know for how long. We need to ensure that given the very difficult environment they're functioning in that they at least have the decent standards of living in terms of basics water, electricity, heating and air conditioning."

The bill provides $64.7 billion for military operations in Iraq, in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Of this, about $51 billion is for Operation Iraqi Freedom, and $10 billion for Operation Enduring Freedom. The remaining monies will cover costs with Operation Nobel Eagle and support for allies in the war on terror.

In addition to providing pay and benefits for the troops, the supplemental will pay for such things as spare parts and flying and steaming hours things that keep day-to-day operations going.

The supplemental also earmarks funds for force-protection measures. This includes protective vests and ceramic inserts for the vests, as well as upgrades for humvees and sensors that will allow detection of attacks, said Zakheim.

"It's a whole array of programs that are geared to protecting our forces who are out on patrol, out on foot," he added.

The enemy's use of improvised explosive devices has been a concern said the comptroller. To help counter this, funds will be used for unmanned aerial vehicles that can track when the IEDs are being placed, he said.

The bill also includes about $19 billion for reconstruction projects in Iraq. The basic objective, said Zakheim, is not just to transfer sovereignty to Iraq but also to "put them on their own economic feet."

This includes funding various security forces civil defense forces, facilities protection forces and the new Iraqi army.

"We want to build up the judicial system," said Zakheim. "We want to build up the constitutional system. We want to build up a prison system. We want to create the environment of security that is so important for an everyday Iraqi to live in and function in."

The comptroller said billions of dollars will be spent on electricity, water, health and getting the oil industry "up to speed."

"If they are to recover economically," he added, "they've got to have some kind of wherewithal to do it with. That is what we're focusing on the most urgent infrastructure needs and of course, security."

The point is, said Zakheim, that if the average Iraqi sees that the new environment will create a better future for him or her, then he or she will buy into the larger ideas for a "democratic" future for Iraq.

Another $1.2 billion is for rebuilding Afghanistan. It will go toward the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police, as well as some infrastructure such as schools, roads and hospitals.

The comptroller said Afghanistan is a very mountainous country and it's "tough to get around." One project has been the road from Kabul to Kandahar. It used to take 30 hours to get from one city to the other, now it takes six, he added. "We want to get it to two. This is the way the country gets on its own economic feet."

Zakheim acknowledged there are still some internal difficulties in southeast Afghanistan, but added, "People may not realize that Afghanistan has its most stable government in 30 years. For the average Afghan to have peace, not have their cities blown up by their own people is new. It's novel and we've done that for the Afghan people."

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