WASHINGTON - Senior Pentagon officials said Tuesday that they'll likely shift emergency funds from expensive weapons systems to help pay for sending more troops to Iraq and improving medical care for soldiers wounded in the wars there and in Afghanistan.
Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England and Adm. Edmund Giambastiani, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, came under fire at a House Budget Committee hearing on the Pentagon's proposed $623.1 billion budget for fiscal 2008, which begins Oct. 1.
Almost $142 billion is slated for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which would add to the $503 billion that Congress already has appropriated, said Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., the budget panel's chairman.
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England said that an emergency spending bill now before Congress could pay for some of the additional troops President Bush dispatched to Iraq. The administration is seeking more than $100 billion in emergency spending for the current fiscal year, most of it for Iraq and Afghanistan.
Lawmakers reiterated concerns that the Pentagon is using the supplemental appropriations bills to fund expensive weapons systems with few direct ties to the wars.
Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the senior Republican on the House Budget Committee, asked England why the emergency spending bill includes money for new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets and C-130 cargo planes.
England said that equipment used in the wars is aging 10 times faster than it would during peacetime, and he acknowledged that the Iraq conflict is lasting far longer than expected.
As lawmakers sparred with military brass, defense analysts issued a new report that says the Iraq War is ravaging the Army and Marine Corps and leaving the country poorly equipped to respond to other crises. The report came a week after a congressionally mandated panel found the National Guard at its lowest state of readiness ever.
Lawrence Korb, an assistant defense secretary for manpower under President Ronald Reagan, said Bush's decision to send at least 21,500 more troops to Iraq will worsen the strain.
"Our Army, the nation's Army, is in bad shape, and the surge will only make it worse for the Army and the country," Korb told reporters. "We're about to undo 30 years of building the best all-volunteer Army we've had."
"The costs in casualties and lost and damaged equipment, as well as the dangers posed by hurried and abbreviated training of new recruits and repeated combat tours, clearly show that the Army is in crisis," the analysts wrote.
"Not since the end of the Vietnam War has the Army been so depleted," they said.
Four Army brigades - about 16,000 troops - have been sent back to Iraq or Afghanistan after spending less than a year at home, Korb and two other analysts said in a report by the Center for American Progress, a liberal policy organization. Army doctrine calls for two years of domestic service following combat duty, but U.S. defense officials have seldom met that target since the Iraq War began in 2003.
A total of 1.4 million troops have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and nearly a third of them have endured more than one combat tour, the report said. Nine brigades - about 36,000 troops - have been sent to the war zones three times, the report said.
Deputy Defense Secretary England acknowledged that the security surge in Iraq will involve more than the 21,500 soldiers and Marines that Bush has cited. But he disputed a recent Congressional Budget Office estimate that it could cost as much as $10 billion and require a total of 35,000 troops, including 13,500 working to support the combat brigades.
The reinforcement effort will require 4,000 to 7,000 more troops, England said, bringing the total surge to no more than 28,500.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat, pounded the table as he asked England and Giambastiani whether the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have led the Pentagon to lower its standards in order to meet recruitment goals.
"In my district, I've watched you recruit two autistic kids, so to say you haven't lowered standards - I beg to differ," Blumenauer said.
Asked whether the Pentagon is now allowing felons into the volunteer armed forces, England said, "We're not lowering our standards. The military has always been helpful to people who have had problems in the past."