Pentagon Funded Mideast Plans In Secret Prior to Iraq-War Vote
By DAVID ROGERS
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
April 22, 2004; Page A4
WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon acknowledged that in tandem with its secret planning for the Iraq war two years ago, it funded 21 military-related projects in the Mideast when the Bush administration had yet to seek a war resolution from Congress.
The administration said in late summer 2002 that $178.4 million was spent on projects that could be justified as part of the larger war against terrorism. The first detailed accounting of that spending was provided to Congress just this week, and even lawmakers who supported military action against Saddam Hussein say the Defense Department stretched its authority and hid facts that should have been shared with lawmakers.
The heaviest concentration of projects was in Kuwait, including a $24 million contract to build up an ammunition storage and supply system for an Army brigade, and $15 million for communications equipment at the Arifjan Base Camp. A $3 million detention facility for unspecified prisoners also was funded, together with almost $6.5 million for an inland petroleum-distribution system, including fuel trucks.
"It's not illegal. It's a violation of trust," said Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha, a senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee who was a strong ally of President Bush's father in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The disclosures come as Republicans press the White House to be more candid as well about the long-term costs of the Iraq war.
Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee yesterday that the increased tempo of operations in Iraq and the extended deployment of 20,000 troops means there could be a $4 billion shortfall for this budget year, ending Sept. 30, slightly more than a month before the November elections.
The larger issue is how much extra money will be needed for fiscal 2005. The White House would prefer to wait until next year to seek supplemental funds and in the interim ask the military to borrow against funds for the third and fourth quarters of fiscal 2005. Such a delay would put a cash strain on Army operations, however, since the monthly cost of the U.S. involvement in Iraq has been running near $4.7 billion. The Armed Services Committee is considering adding as much as $20 billion to its military budget bill as a bridge loan of sorts until a supplemental-spending measure is agreed to next year.
The amount of money involved in the prewar-spending controversy is relatively small, but the dispute is significant, since it involves lawmakers whose support the White House wants for the war. "When you're talking about specific dollars...there ought to be consultation," said Rep. Jerry Lewis (R., Calif.), chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee.
A senior administration official said the projects were "theaterwide" in their impact and she denied any intention to mislead or keep information from Congress. Quarterly reports reflecting aggregate spending were filed, she said, and while admitting these reports often lacked details, "If [lawmakers] don't ask questions, they don't get answers."
Indeed, Congress had given the administration broad discretion on spending after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Still, the White House was required to consult with lawmakers, and the military knew the Appropriations leadership was especially sensitive at that time to prejudging the war debate.
Just as the 21 projects were being funded in August and September 2002, for example, lawmakers were resisting demands by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for a $10 billion reserve fund that lawmakers feared would be applied to Iraq.
The 21 projects were spread among Kuwait, Qatar and Oman. According to the Pentagon, they were culled from a larger list prepared for Gen. Tommy Franks, head of U.S. Central Command, who was charged with secret planning for the war. The approved expenditures included such generic items as $11.5 million to buy "humanitarian daily rations to feed civilians." In Qatar, a pivot point for operations in Afghanistan as well as Iraq, $36.4 million was spent to build a forward headquarters facility for Central Command.
At least 11 of the projects were in Kuwait, which became the major jumping-off point for U.S. troops in the 2003 Iraq invasion. The list -- which was provided to Congress this week -- would surely have led to questions then. Even now, the numbers are being released only to rebut accusations that the Pentagon diverted much larger sums for prewar projects.
This charge was made in "Plan of Attack," a new book by Washington Post Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward. He wrote that an estimated $700 million was taken in 2002 from prior appropriations, including funds for the war in Afghanistan, to pay for 30 projects sought by Gen. Franks. The administration agrees Central Command presented it with requests totaling about $750 million, but says only the $178.4 million was committed and CentCom was told "not to proceed with the other proposals until further guidance was provided."
Write to David Rogers at email@example.com
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