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Bush: Delay in War Funds Will Hurt Military Readiness, Morale

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 3, 2007 – Further congressional delay in forwarding an appropriate emergency war spending bill to the White House will damage military readiness and morale as well as endanger the nation, President Bush told reporters today at a White House news conference.

“Congress’s failure to fund our troops on the front lines will mean that some of our military families could wait longer for their loved ones to return from the front lines, and others could see their loved ones headed back to the war sooner than they need to,” Bush said.

That scenario is “unacceptable,” Bush said, noting he believes the American people would agree with him.

“Members of Congress say they support the troops. Now they need to show that support in deed, as well as in word,” Bush said. Congressional debate over the conduct of the war against terrorism “shouldn’t come at the expense of funding our troops,” the president said.

The Senate and the House of Representatives have both passed emergency war supplemental funding bills providing funding for U.S. troops, but the money is contingent on troops being withdrawn from Iraq according to a set timetable. Each chamber’s bill also contains unrelated domestic spending.

The president sent his recommended military spending bill to Congress almost 60 days ago. Bush has rejected the recent Senate and House legislation out of hand, saying he’d veto any military funding bill with set timetables for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

Bush said he’d just received an update on the U.S. troop reinforcement, or surge, to Iraq from Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Two of the five additional Army brigades involved in the surge are now operating in Baghdad, Bush noted, with another now making its way into Iraq from Kuwait.

“And the remaining two brigades will deploy in April and in May,” the president said. It’ll be early June, he said, before all five brigades and other U.S. reinforcements are in place in Iraq.

The U.S. Army brigades already in Baghdad are having a positive effect on reducing violence there, Bush said.

“And as more of those reinforcements arrive in the months ahead, their impact will continue to grow,” the president said.

The current House and Senate war spending bills “undercut the troops by substituting the judgment of politicians in Washington for the judgment of our commanders in the ground, setting an arbitrary withdrawal from Iraq, and spending billions of dollars on ‘pork barrel’ projects completely unrelated to the war,” Bush said.

If Congress fails to forward the White House a favorable war spending bill for presidential signature by mid-April, then, “the Army will be forced to consider cutting back on equipment, equipment repair, and quality of life initiatives for our Guard and Reserve forces,” Bush said.

Bush said those cuts would become necessary, “because the money would have to be shifted to support the troops on the front lines.” The Army also would have to consider cutting training for stateside-assigned Guard and Reserve units, he said.

That scenario would negatively affect unit readiness and might delay the affected units’ availability for missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, Bush said.

Additionally, if Congress doesn’t pass and forward a favorable war spending bill by mid-May, then potential problems would become more acute, the president said. The Army would be forced to consider slowing or freezing funding for its equipment-repair depots, Bush said, or delay training of some active-duty forces for overseas deployment.

“If this happens, some of the forces now deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq may need to be extended because other units are not ready to take their places,” Bush explained. “The Army may also have to delay the formation of new brigade combat teams.”

Bush then read from a letter to Congress written by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, who informed legislators of the impending funding crisis for his service: “‘Without approval of the supplemental funds in April, we will be forced to take increasingly draconian measures which will impact Army readiness and impose hardships on our soldiers and their families.’”

A shortage of funds, Bush explained, would cause some stateside-based Army units to be unavailable for mobilization to Iraq and Afghanistan to replace units set for rotation back to their home bases.

The president acknowledged that some Americans are concerned about U.S. policy on Iraq, but he emphasized that failure to defeat terrorism there would doom the fledgling Iraqi democracy and endanger U.S. citizens.

American military forces serving in Iraq are providing its young government “breathing room” so that it can eventually defend and sustain itself against its enemies, Bush said.

If U.S. troops leave Iraq too early, it could become a “caldron of chaos, which would embolden” the Sunni, Shiite and other extremists who are now trying to tear the country apart, Bush said. Terrorists could then use Iraq as a safe haven, he pointed out, from which to launch new attacks against America.

Bush said his primary presidential task is to protect the American people.

“And, I firmly believe that if we were to leave (Iraq) before the job is done, the enemy would follow us here,” the president said.

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