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Senate okays $63-billion more for Iraq, Afghanistan

Published September 8, 2006

WASHINGTON - The Senate agreed to spend an additional $63-billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as lawmakers on Thursday passed a huge bill that funds the Pentagon.

The bill sailed through by a vote of 98-0 after senators added money to help track down al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and fight the opium trade in Afghanistan that is helping fuel the Taliban's resurgence.

The support for the bill and the money to support U.S. troops in harm's way came despite criticism by Democrats of the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq.

The bill now totals $469.7-billion. It grew by more than $16-billion during a debate that began in July before it was suspended during lawmakers' four-week August recess.

By a 96-0 vote, senators approved $200-million to revive a CIA unit dedicated to hunting down bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders. News accounts in July said a CIA unit dedicated to capturing bin Laden had been disbanded.

"What does it say to violent jihadists that a terrorist mastermind remains alive and well five years after killing 3,000 Americans?" said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D. "Our bill tells the terrorists that protecting our nation is the first priority - and that we are going to deliver to bin Laden the justice that a mass murderer deserves," said Conrad, who sponsored the legislation with Sen. Bryon Dorgan, D-N.D.

Intelligence officials have said the realignment of CIA efforts on al-Qaida reflects a view that the terrorist group is not as hierarchical as it used to be, as well as a concern about al-Qaida-inspired groups that have begun carrying out attacks independent of bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Senators also voted 51-45 in support of an amendment by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., to provide $700-million for Pentagon efforts to combat the opium trade in Afghanistan.

The Defense Department bill originally contained $50-billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some $13-billion was added last month to pay to replace Army and Marine Corps equipment lost or worn out in harsh conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lawmakers expect an additional $7-billion will be added during House-Senate talks on a compromise bill. The comparable level of defense funding passed by the House in June was $458.6-billion.

Congress has approved about $500-billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other anti-terrorism efforts in the five years since the Sept. 11 terrorist assaults, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Appropriations for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars averaged almost $10-billion per month for the current year, so President Bush early next year will have to make another request for money for military operations in Iraq.

[Last modified September 8, 2006, 02:07:30]

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