U.S. will pay billions to expand further the Iraqi army and police

Tuesday, February 6th 2007, 4:08 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The U.S. government will pay $5.8 billion to help Iraq expand further its army and police force, which are deemed too small for its security needs, senior Pentagon officials said Tuesday.

The expansion, announced Monday as part of President Bush's 2008 budget plan, would increase the Iraqi security forces from 328,000, which was the goal set several years ago and reached last December, to 362,000.

The Bush administration has made the development of competent Iraqi security forces a centerpiece of its strategy for eventually withdrawing U.S. military forces. But the process has been slower than planned.

Tina Jonas, the Pentagon budget chief, told a small group of reporters that Bush's 2008 budget proposal includes $3.8 billion for the expansion and that the other $2 billion is contained in his request for an additional $93.4 billion to cover overall war costs for the remainder of the current budget year, which ends Sept. 30.

The plan to expand the Iraqi army was generated last year while Donald H. Rumsfeld was defense secretary. But it took more months to work out with the Iraqi government how much it would cost and how that would be shared.

Vice Adm. Stephen Stanley, a top budget official on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday that the Iraqis are responsible for the cost of training and equipping 19,000 of the 34,000 additional troops and police. The United States would pay for the other 15,000.

Jonas also said that in the first two months of the current budget year _ October through November 2006 _ the Pentagon spent about $8.6 billion a month on the Iraq war and about $1.4 billion in Afghanistan. By comparison, the spending rate for Iraq alone during the 2006 budget year, which ended last Sept. 30, was about $6.8 billion per month, according to a Pentagon chart on war costs since 2001.

Stanley said the spending rate in Iraq of $8.6 billion a month so far this budget year is probably the highest since the initial invasion in March 2003.

Jonas noted that war costs usually are higher in the initial months of a budget year because more contracts for services are paid early in the year. Also, overall costs in Iraq have grown because the Pentagon is now using the war budget to pay for repairing, replacing and replenishing equipment lost or damaged in combat.