By Brian Faler
May 14 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. House approved a $96.7 billion bill that includes money for President Barack Obama’s troop buildup in Afghanistan, a strategy some Democrats said they doubted would work.
The chamber voted 368 to 60 today to approve the legislation that also funds the war in Iraq. Several lawmakers said the administration has one year to show its plan to send 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan is enough to turn around the seven-and-a-half-year-old conflict.
The lawmakers questioned the Afghan and Pakistani governments’ ability or willingness to root out extremists and added provisions to the bill ordering the White House to submit a progress report on the war next year, before it asks Congress for more money.
“I don’t believe in the operation,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat. He said lawmakers are giving Obama “every single thing he asked for and then some so that a year from now we can have an honest, hard-nosed review about whether or not that policy is receiving the kind of cooperation and whether those two governments are demonstrating the kind of activities and competence” needed to succeed.
Obey, a 40-year veteran of the House, said he had “very little faith” the U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan would work. “Those governments are corrupt, they are weak, they are chaotic, they appear to lack the focus and cohesion and effectiveness to turn the countries around.” He also said, “It’s a mess and let’s hope that, with God’s help, we can get out of it in a reasonably decent time.”
Lawmakers rejected elements of the administration’s war funding proposal, including its request for money to shut down the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Some House members said the administration hasn’t adequately explained what it intends to do with those held there.
Democrats, who control the House, added $12 billion to the administration’s spending request, including $2.25 billion to buy eight C-17 aircraft the Pentagon did not request.
Representative Jerry Lewis of California, the top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, said he supported the legislation. He expressed concern, though, that it didn’t go far enough to ensure the Defense Department does not use other funds to move prisoners at Guantanamo to civilian facilities in the United States.
The Senate Appropriations Committee took up its own version of the legislation today. The panel intends to omit funding for the C-17s while adding Obama’s request for additional funding for the International Monetary Fund. Senate Democrats aim to complete work on the legislation by the end of next week.
The administration last month requested $83.4 billion to help fund the conflicts this year in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as other initiatives. The spending would boost the total cost of the wars to more than $900 billion.
Obama announced in February and March he would send a total of 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. That’s designed to bring the total number of U.S. troops there to 68,000 by the end of this year. Obama sent the spending bill to Congress last month, stressing the need for more money to fund the war in Afghanistan.
“This funding request will ensure that the full force of the United States -- our military, intelligence, diplomatic and economic power -- are engaged in an overall effort to defeat al- Qaeda and uproot the safe haven from which it plans and trains for attack,” he said in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat.
In subsequent congressional hearings, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Envoy Richard Holbrooke faced skeptical questions from lawmakers about whether the administration is making an open-ended commitment to the war in Afghanistan. The lawmakers also complained about corruption in the Afghan and Pakistani governments, the poppy trade there and the treatment of women in the region.
The Pentagon announced this week it was replacing the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan, with Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal.
Representative Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat, said Obama’s troop buildup would only make it harder to withdraw from a war that lacks a “clearly defined mission.”
“I wish the current administration would do in Afghanistan what I asked the previous administration to do in Iraq: And that is to simply put forth a clearly defined policy, a clearly defined mission -- it’s not a radical idea,” McGovern said. “I am tired of wars with no exits, no deadlines and no end.”
The bill is H.R. 2346.
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