Pentagon seeks billions more for Iraq war

By Susan Cornwell

U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates on Wednesday asked Congress to approve nearly $190 billion (94.3 billion pounds) more in spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In prepared testimony to a Senate committee, Gates said the Bush administration sought the money for more training and equipment for the U.S. military, including new armoured vehicles that give extra protection to troops against bomb blasts. The funds were for the 2008 fiscal year beginning October 1.

More money was also needed to train and equip Iraqi security forces as well as to improve U.S. facilities in the region and “consolidate our bases in Iraq,” Gates said. Reuters obtained a copy of his remarks in advance of his testimony on Wednesday.

In asking for the money, Gates said he was aware of the controversy surrounding the unpopular war. Since September 2001, Congress has appropriated $602 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

“I know that Iraq and other difficult choices America faces in the war on terror will continue to be a source of friction within the Congress, between the Congress and the president, and in the wider public debate,” Gates said.

But he said U.S. troops had done far more than had been asked of them, and “like all of you, I always keep our troops — their safety and their mission — foremost in my mind every day.”

The administration had already asked Congress to approve

$147 billion for the war effort in the coming fiscal year. Gates said it was seeking another $42 billion more, bringing the total war funding request for fiscal 2008 to $189 billion.

The biggest chunk of the new request would go for force protection, including $11 billion for fielding about 7,000 more of the new Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles, which have V-shaped hulls to disperse the impact of bomb blasts. This amount is being sought in addition to 8,000 MRAPS already funded or requested, Gates said.