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MesajGönderilme zamanı: 31 Tem 2013, 00:09 
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Kayıt: 18 Tem 2012, 01:47
Mesajlar: 1004
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Senate Panel Approves 2014 Defense Spending Bill

By RICHARD LARDNER — Jul. 30 1:37 PM EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Senate panel on Tuesday approved a defense spending bill for the 2014 fiscal year that seeks to reverse the most severe impacts of the across-the-board budget cuts on the armed forces by adding nearly $4.5 billion to cover shortfalls in military training and equipment maintenance programs.

But Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., chairman of the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee, said that the cuts, known as sequestration, have to be stopped because they are forcing Congress to play "whack-a-mole" with the defense budget. For every program that receives a funding boost, another program takes a cut, Durbin said.

"We cannot continue like this," he said.

If Congress and the White House cannot agree on a plan to undo sequestration, the Pentagon will have to slice $52 billion from its budget for the 2014 fiscal year that begins October 1.

Overall, the bill provides just over $594 billion in spending for the military, with close to $78 billion of the total for the war in Afghanistan.

The subcommittee's bill authorizes a 1 percent pay raise for military personnel and Defense Department civilian employees. It also includes $25 million to implement a program within all the military branches to provide victims of sexual assault with legal assistance and support.

The panel's bill slows production of the F-35 jet fighter, the Pentagon's most expensive weapons acquisition program and an aircraft with a troubled testing record. The bill allows the Pentagon to buy 29 aircraft in 2014, but cuts money sought for the following year to ramp up production of the jet so the military can focus instead on testing, design and development.

"Aggressive overlap in designing, testing and procuring this aircraft earlier in its history got us into serious trouble, and this (panel) is eager to avoid a repeat of these problems," Durbin said.

To improve security at U.S. diplomatic facilities overseas, the spending package adds $48 million to create 35 more Marine Corps security guard detachments to protect these outposts. Lawmakers have increased their focus on diplomatic security in the wake of the deadly raid on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya. Four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed in the Sept. 11 attack last year.

The subcommittee's bill includes a provision that prohibits any U.S. money from being used to personally benefit Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The provision was adopted in response to reports that Karzai allegedly received cash payments from the CIA. There is growing frustration with Karzai on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers have criticized him for delaying negotiations on a security agreement that would govern a post-2014 military presence by the U.S.

"There were suggestions in the press that he was getting walking around money," Durbin said. "He denies it. We explicitly say it cannot happen under the law."

The full Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to meet Thursday to consider the defense spending bill.

The House of Representatives last week passed a $598.3 billion defense spending bill for 2014 by a vote of 315-109. The House bill would provide the Pentagon with $512.5 billion for weapons, personnel, aircraft and ships plus $85.8 billion for Afghanistan war operations.

The House bill has drawn a veto threat from the White House, which argues that it would force the administration to cut education, health research and other domestic programs in order to boost spending for the Pentagon.

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MesajGönderilme zamanı: 31 Tem 2013, 00:17 
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Kayıt: 18 Tem 2012, 01:47
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Pentagon Report Foresees Continued Support for Afghanistan

THOM SHANKER

The New York Times - ‎Tuesday‎, ‎July‎ ‎30‎, ‎2013


WASHINGTON — Following reports in recent weeks that the White House is considering a full withdrawal from Afghanistan when the NATO-led mission ends in December 2014, a Pentagon assessment released Tuesday says significant foreign military assistance and financial support for Afghan security forces will be required long after United States troops are expected to depart.

“Beyond then, it will still require substantial training, advising and assistance — including financial support — to address ongoing shortcomings,” said the report, titled “Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan.”

President Obama has ordered American troop levels, which were at 68,000 earlier this year, to be cut in half by February. Negotiations are under way with the Afghan government on a bilateral security agreement, including whether American military personnel will remain after the NATO mandate expires at the end of 2014.

The twice-yearly report, required by Congress, covers the period from Oct. 1, 2012, to March 31, 2013; it therefore concludes before the start of the annual fighting season, which begins in earnest with the spring thaw. Like its predecessors, the report presents a grave assessment of the challenges remaining for Afghan security, rule of law and economic prosperity, but it also seeks to identify many silver linings of promise among the dark clouds of war.

“Challenges with the economy and governance will continue to foster uncertainty about the long-term prospects for the country,” the report states.

While the assessment says the Afghan government “is increasingly able to execute parts of its budget and deliver very basic goods and services,” it also warns that “the government has yet to reduce corruption or extend governance to many rural areas effectively.”

The insurgency is again described as “resilient,” and the report repeats a standard strategic complaint heard in Washington and Kabul — that so long as the Taliban can find haven in Pakistan, defeating it on the battlefield will be difficult if not impossible.

But other than advances in a few areas, including northern Helmand Province, the insurgency is struggling to make gains and consolidate them. And as Afghans take over the security mission from the United States and NATO, the Taliban is denied a favorite propaganda line that it is battling to liberate the country from a foreign occupying force, according to the assessment.

“Taliban territorial influence and control decreased” last year and through this spring, the report states. “The enemy is now less capable, less popular and less of an existential threat to the Afghan government than in 2011.”

Even so, “insurgents maintained influence in many rural areas that serve as platforms to attack urban areas and were able to carry out attacks with roughly the same frequency as in 2012 — although these attacks tended to be in less populated areas,” it said.

The capabilities of Afghan security forces “have greatly increased over the past two years,” according to the report, an assessment counterbalanced by a statement that domestic security “has yet to demonstrate the ability to operate independently on a nationwide scale.”

Afghan security forces are taking the lead for almost 90 percent of all military operations, the report states, highlighting that “the conflict in Afghanistan has shifted into a fundamentally new phase.”

“For the past 11 years, the United States and our coalition partners have led the fight against the Taliban, but now Afghan forces are conducting almost all combat operations,” the report states.

The report also notes a steep increase in casualties among Afghan forces and a concurrent drop in casualties among American and NATO forces. Afghan security forces do struggle with battlefield evacuation of wounded troops and emergency medical care, as well as with recruiting, retention, payroll and logistical operations like providing fuel and ammunition.

Special attention is paid to the number of Afghan units that can operate independently in combat. Although the report’s period ended in March, Pentagon officials said that 12 of 24 Afghan brigades could operate independently with their foreign advisers as of this month, and that 11 more were ranked effective if not independent.

The number of Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan today is “very low,” but Al Qaeda’s relationship with the local Afghan Taliban “remains intact,” according to the report.

The release of the Pentagon assessment came days after the senior military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., told The New York Times that Afghanistan would need the United States for years to come.

General Dunford said that by the end of next year, “the actual fighting on a day-to-day basis will all be done by Afghans.” But he also cautioned that “Afghan forces, at the end of 2014, won’t be completely independent,” and said that “our presence post-2014 is necessary for the gains we have made to date to be sustainable.”

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