WASHINGTON – Senators interrogated top U.S. officials Tuesday about the Bush administration's request for nearly $100 billion in additional funds for the War on Terror.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice faced her second round of questioning by lawmakers about the war budget in two weeks,but this time was joined by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace.
The meeting,held by the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations,served largely as a check-up on Iraq and offered a venue for senators to express their frustrations.
“Over the last seven fiscal years … Congress has provided a total of $3.2 trillion – that's trillion with a ‘T' or a three followed by 12 zeros – to the Department of Defense,” said Sen. Robert Byrd,D-W.Va. “We need to know that the funds you are requesting will do more than merely continue the status quo.”
The status of Iraqi forces is “good,for the most part,and getting better,” Pace said. The government of Iraq will host an “expanded neighbors meeting” in April and has invited Syria and Iran to join the summit to discuss the future of an independent Iraq.
Recognizing the magnitude of U.S. investment in Iraq and Afghanistan,Gates said the additional funding would provide needed assistance to forces fighting the War on Terror.
The money,Gates said,would replace damaged equipment of Army and Marine Corps ground forces,train Iraqi and Afghan security forces and provide technologies to better protect soldiers from improvised explosive devices.
In the aftermath of several news stories about poor treatment of wounded soldiers in military hospitals,many senators critical of the Bush administration's war policy focused their questions on the mental and physical rehabilitation capabilities of the U.S. government.
“Was it right to subject them to substandard conditions at Walter Reed Hospital and to a bureaucratic nightmare that is reminiscent of a Kafka novel?” asked Sen. Patrick Leahy,D-Vt.
Leahy later asked how much more money the administration would need before Iraq could sustain itself.
Gates said he did not know,adding that the circumstances are determined by the situation on the ground.
“With all the heated debate,the reality is nearly all of us are trying to do the right thing for America,” Gates said. “And that is: How do we avoid chaos in Iraq and at the same time bring about conditions in Iraq that allow us,at some point,to bring the troops home?”