WASHINGTON (AFP) — President George W. Bush Monday demanded nearly 200 billion dollars from Congress to fund war operations next year, throwing down the gauntlet to opponents who want a swift exit from Iraq.
"Every member of Congress who wants to see both success in Iraq and our troops begin to come home should strongly support this bill," Bush said at the White House.
"I know some in Congress are against the war and are seeking ways to demonstrate that opposition," he said. "But they ought to make sure our troops have what it takes to succeed."
The request for 196.4 billion dollars would fund the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008, and adds more than 42 billion dollars to the administration's original estimate of its war costs for next year.
It includes 5.3 billion dollars for mine-resistant armored vehicles known as MRAPs, and 3.6 billion dollars for the State Department in part to fund what Bush called "crucial relief for Iraqi refugees."
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates made the case for the additional funding in congressional testimony on September 26, but Monday's action marked the formal request with the documentation to justify it.
If approved, the request would push US war costs to a whopping 757.4 billion dollars since Bush launched his "war on terror" following the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Following Gates's testimony, a Washington Post-ABC News poll said that 43 percent of Americans want the budget for Iraq and Afghanistan reduced sharply.
Another 23 percent said they wanted the funding lowered somewhat, while 27 percent said they would give a green light to the administration's request.
Democrats in Congress have contrasted Bush's unwillingness to back more funding for a children's healthcare bill to his demand for an "open-ended, open-wallet commitment to Iraq."
White House spokesman Tony Fratto said the Pentagon was in no immediate danger of running out of money for its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"But what we want to make sure is that the Department of Defense and the armed forces have the certainty that they need going forward. So we do want Congress to move sooner, rather than later," he told reporters.
A senior defense official said the Pentagon is spending 10.7 billion dollars a month on average on the war on terrorism overall, 9.2 billion dollars a month of it on Iraq.
Pentagon officials said the additional funding included 6.3 billion dollars to pay for the cost of maintaining larger numbers of troops in Iraq but also reflected plans to bring home five combat brigades by July.
Other big-ticket items included 14.2 billion dollars for "force protection" and efforts to counter improvised explosive devices, the biggest killer of US troops in Iraq.
The bulk of that -- 11 billion dollars -- would go to buy another 7,274 MRAP vehicles, which will increase the total fielded in 2008 to 15,274.
Gates has made acquisition of the MRAPs a priority since learning that no US soldier has been killed by a mine explosion while inside an armored vehicle.
The 2008 request would increase the amount set aside for training and equipping Iraqi security forces by a billion dollars to three billion.
A billion dollars was earmarked for military intelligence, which will be used to buy 24 additional unmanned Predator aircraft and for a variety of intelligence-gathering teams.
An 8.8 billion dollar chunk of the funding request would go to replace, replenish or repair equipment ground down or destroyed in combat.
Another 6.4 billion dollars will go for equipment needed to improve the readiness of forces that are about to deploy, fill other equipment shortfalls and pay for pre-deployment training of national guard and reserve units.
Care of wounded soldiers and support for their families, along with accelerated hospital construction, account for 1.7 billion dollars of the request.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are funded separately from the Pentagon's base defense budget. The administration's 2008 budget request for 481.4 billion dollars is still pending.
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