WASHINGTON – The U.S. military has spent just 40 percent of the $7 billion appropriated in 2005 for the training of Iraqi and Afghanistan security forces, a top Pentagon priority that is lynchpin for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
The slow pace of spending was outlined in a congressional report that also raised questions about whether the Pentagon needs the full $5.9 billion it has requested for training this year in an emergency spending bill that is pending in Congress.
The report comes asDefense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the Bush administration have complained about cuts in the funding for Iraqi forces that is included in the House-passed version of the bill.
In a report obtained by The Associated Press, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service said the Pentagon is spending at a slower rate than Defense Department officials initially expected. As of Jan. 1, the report said, the Pentagon had allocated $2.1 billion, or just 37 percent, of the $5.7 billion in Iraqi training funds for the 2005 fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.
CRS also said Congress may want more advance notice and details of the Pentagon's plans to provide equipment to the Iraqi and Afghan forces.
Army Lt. Col. Michael J. Negard, spokesman for the training mission in Iraq, said the military's focus on increased security there during the recent elections caused some of the delay in spending. He said the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq is responsible for nearly $5.4 billion of the $5.9 billion, and the pace of spending has picked up since the beginning of the year.
"By June, July we will have obligated about 95 percent of the appropriated funds overall and are on a good glide path to achieve that goal," Negard said. "We are responsible with the funding and closely scrutinize the projects" to ensure the money is spent to best support the transfer of control to the Iraqi security forces.
Defense officials had projected they would have spent 75 percent of the money by Jan. 1.
The spending for Afghanistan is moving a bit more quickly. As of Jan. 1, the Pentagon had appropriated $733 million — or 56 percent — of the $1.3 billion set aside for training and equipping Afghan troops. Defense officials had projected they would spend 64 percent during that time period.
That means that in Iraq and Afghanistan combined, just over $2.8 billion of the $7 billion 2005 appropriation, or 40 percent, had been spent by Jan. 1.
In a radio interview last week, Rumsfeld complained about the difficulty in getting Congress to quickly approve funds to help develop the Iraqi and Afghan armies and police.
"Our government and our Congress are not really organized effectively to build partner nation capabilities," the defense secretary said WTN in Nashville, Tenn. "We can sustain financially five or six or seven or eight Afghan or Iraqi soldiers for the expense of one of ours, and yet we have a terrible time getting approval through the Congress to use some of the funds to develop the capacity."
Over the past year, military officials have stepped up the training of Iraqi security forces, saying that as the local army grows stronger and a unified government takes hold, the U.S. will be able to withdraw troops. There are about 132,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, but officials have said they'd like that number reduced to about 100,000 by the end of the year.
So far, Negard said, 135,000 Iraqi police and 115,000 military troops have been trained. The goal is to train roughly 195,000 police and 130,000 military, he said.
Defense officials have acknowledged that Iraqi police training is lagging behind. There have been persistent reports of Shiite militias or death squads kidnapping or killing Sunnis, and as a result, eroding public confidence in Iraqi police.
The training funds are included in a $92 billion supplemental spending bill passed by the House last month to cover the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan operations as well as hurricane cleanup. Lawmakers sliced about $700 million in funds requested to build facilities for the Iraqi and Afghan police, and put a hold on about $1 billion for military infrastructure until detailed plans are provided.