Representative Duncan Hunter, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, suggested that the military was being saddled with additional responsibilities because the State Department has been sluggish in responding to new needs. Hunter said “the need to train and equip foreign forces and to provide stabilization programs will remain necessary as we continue to fight the global war on terror.”
The Pentagon asked Congress Tuesday to give it permanent authority over training and equipping foreign militaries, in a shifting of roles from the State Department.
Both Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sought Congressional approval for the change, as well as authorization for the Pentagon to spend 750 million dollars in 2009 in helping foreign militaries.
Gates told members of the House Armed Services Committee the foreign military assistance program is “a vital and enduring military requirement, irrespective of the capacity of other departments, and its authorities and funding mechanisms should reflect that reality.”
Some lawmakers said it raised questions about the military’s growing role in domains traditionally reserved for diplomats.
Representative Ike Skelton, the committee chairman, said there was strong support for the goals of the proposals.
“We’ve greeted them with some concern, though,” he said. “Some of that concern has had to do with what appears to be the migration of State Department activities to the Defense Department.”
But Rice said “we fully support this,” arguing that the Pentagon-run programs had proved invaluable in recent years in providing arms and training on short notice to countries like Lebanon.
“Let me underscore that this is not a substitute for more robust funding for security assistance accounts. But we strongly advocate continuing these important contingency authorities,” she said.
Gates and Rice cast the proposals as part of a broader effort to make US government agencies work together more effectively in dealing with suddenly emerging security challenges.
Traditionally the State Department oversees the foreign military assistance programs as part of US diplomacy, even as the US military had a key role in implementing them.
But since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, the Pentagon has sought to be able to move more quickly to help allied militaries.
Congress has authorized the Pentagon to run military train and equip programs over the past three years, but the authority expires at the end of this year.
Representative Duncan Hunter, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, suggested that the military was being saddled with additional responsibilities because the State Department has been sluggish in responding to new needs.
Hunter said “the need to train and equip foreign forces and to provide stabilization programs will remain necessary as we continue to fight the global war on terror.”
“That said, the long-term answer must reflect an integrated approach to foreign assistance and not simply a shift in those types of missions to US military forces,” he said.
The proposals from Gates and Rice would meanwhile authorize the transfer of up to 200 million dollars from the Pentagon budget to the State Department to pay for civilian support for the military in institution-building and to stabilize war-torn countries.
Rice also said the State Department is prepared to launch a “civilian response corps” this year if the Congress approves its request for a 248.6 million dollars to build it.
The operation would create 250 positions in the State Department and the Agency for International Development for civilian experts who could be deployed on 48 hours notice in a crisis, according to senior US defense officials.
Another 2,000 officials would be on standby for deployment in a second wave. A reserve force of 1,500 civilians would be formed, providing a pool of expertise that could be tapped for these nation-building missions, they said.
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) April 15, 2008