By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 1, 2007 - The Defense Department's 2008 budget request for the war on terror likely will be adjusted as leaders assess progress made by the U.S. troop surge in Iraq, the deputy secretary of defense said yesterday in congressional testimony. The current budget only covers the troop surge through Sept. 30, and depending on the Iraqi benchmark report that's due to President Bush in September, the Defense Department will probably file a supplemental funding request to continue the surge, Gordon England told the House Budget Committee.
"Quite obviously at this point, I mean all those troops will not be out on Oct. 1. I mean it'd be physically impossible to do that," England told the committee. "So we know there will be some increased costs."
The Defense Department budgeted $6.5 billion for the troop surge through Sept. 30, because officials were unsure how long the surge would be needed, England said. Department officials will delay a budget amendment as long as possible so they can get more clarity about the situation in Iraq and the commitment needed, he added.
The basis for all decisions about the Iraq budget will be the president's decision after he receives the September report and several other assessments, England noted. "Frankly, it's going to be based on insights, the situation on the ground, the president's decisions, time lines, etc. I mean, basically we respond to the president's direction in this regard," he said.
England also addressed questions about U.S. government contracts in Iraq. As of April 2007, he said, 129,000 contractor personnel were in Iraq; 21,000, or 16 percent, were U.S. citizens; 43,000, or 33 percent, were third-country nationals; and 65,000, or 51 percent, were local Iraqis. The U.S. government has several oversight processes in place for these contracts, and when abuse does occur, the people involved are prosecuted, he said.
Defense Department inspector general investigations have led to 17 convictions in regards to contract abuse, and the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction has more than 65 ongoing investigations, he said.
"I view that as good news, because when people do bad things, we want to catch them and we want to convict them as a deterrent to other people to live by the rules," England said.
Part of the Defense Department's $141.7 billion budget for the wars in fiscal 2008 is $5.6 billion for Mine Resistant, Ambush Protected Vehicles, which are designed to deflect underbody attacks on vehicles. That money will purchase 6,400 of the vehicles, England said.
England also highlighted money spent on training and equipping Iraqi security forces and on reconstruction. This year, Iraq is spending about $7.5 billion on its infrastructure, which for the first time exceeds the U.S. contribution of $5.5 billion in the same area, he said.
England noted that he recently returned from a trip to Iraq and Afghanistan and was impressed by progress there. Morale of U.S. troops is high, and Iraqi security forces continue to improve, he said. "Things are obviously on a very positive slope in Iraq and also Afghanistan," he said.