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Senate Approves $91.3 Billion War Spending Bill

WASHINGTON -- The Senate on Thursday passed a $91.3 billion military spending bill, shorn of money President Obama wants to close the Guantanamo Bay prison but allowing him to significantly ramp up the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

The Senate voted 86-3 to pass the bill, which provides money for military and diplomatic operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, setting up House-Senate talks on a compromise measure to present to Obama next month.

The spending measure closely tracks Obama's request for war funds, although the $80 million he was seeking to close the U.S. naval prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was dropped Wednesday.

A three-day Senate debate on the bill featured little of the angst over the situation in Afghanistan that permeated debate in the House last week on companion legislation.

Obama is sending more than 20,000 additional troops there and, for the first time next year, the annual cost of the war in Afghanistan is projected to exceed the cost of fighting in Iraq.

With support forces, the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan is expected to be about 68,000 by the end of the year -- more than double the size of the U.S. force at the end of 2008.

Among the few cautionary voices was Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer.

"I want to give this administration ... the resources it needs to successfully end these wars," Boxer said. "I don't support an open-ended commitment of American troops to Afghanistan. And if we do not see measurable progress, we must reconsider our engagement and strategy there."

Debate pretty much fizzled after Democrats retreated and moved to delete from the bill money to close Guantanamo, where about 240 terrorism suspects still are held. The companion House bill had already taken that step.

The underlying war funding measure has gotten relatively little attention, even though it would boost total approved spending for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars above $900 billion.

The Pentagon would receive $73 billion under the legislation, including $4.6 billion to train and equip Afghan and Iraqi security forces; $400 million to train and equip Pakistan's security forces, and $21.9 billion to procure new mine-resistant vehicles, aircraft, weapons and ammunition, among other items.

The House version adds $11.8 billion to Obama's request, including almost $4 billion for new weapons and military equipment such as eight C-17 cargo planes, mine-resistant vehicles, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Stryker armored vehicles. The House measure also adds $2.2 billion to Obama's request for foreign aid, much of which appears to be designed to get around spending limits for 2010.

The Senate measure contains less for weapons procurement and foreign aid, setting up potentially nettlesome negotiations.

In the end, several Senate amendments were added, including one to block the release under the Freedom of Information Act of government photographs showing the abuse of detainees. The administration is fighting the American Civil Liberties Union in federal court over the release of the photos, and the move was intended to bolster the government's legal position.

Republican Sen. Bob Corker won approval Thursday of an amendment requiring the president to set forth U.S. objectives in Afghanistan and Pakistan and issue quarterly reports detailing whether those goals were being met.