- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 6, 2002

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday held out the possibility that U.S. commandos will still be in Afghanistan next year hunting down Taliban and al Qaeda fighters.
Mr. Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee that one purpose of President Bush's unique request Monday for a $10 billion advance for the war against terrorism is to fund operations in Afghanistan in fiscal 2003, which begins Oct. 1.
The United States has spent $7 billion in the war's first four months. At that rate, Mr. Rumsfeld said, the $10 billion war reserve would pay for up to the first five months of conflict in 2003.
"If one assumed that we're in roughly the same circumstance we are today, still tracking down al Qaeda and Taliban pockets of resistance in Afghanistan the dollars would be roughly what we're currently spending so it would carry us through three or four or five months," Mr. Rumsfeld told the committee.
Questioned by Chairman Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, on whether the $10 billion was a down payment for war against Iran, Iraq or North Korea all U.S.-designated terrorist states Mr. Rumsfeld said it was not.
"My understanding is that the funds would be used for the war on terrorism that the president has announced," he testified. "I don't think there's anything in the budget that contemplates anything of the size that you're talking about."
His testimony came the day after Mr. Bush presented his first wartime defense budget to Congress, asking for $379 billion in 2003 and an overall $120 billion increase in Pentagon spending through 2007 the largest defense boost in 20 years.
The administration portrays the budget as funding the war against international terrorism, transforming a Cold War force for 21st-century threats and beginning the process of replacing aging tactical aircraft with new, steathier ones.
Mr. Rumsfeld heard hints of Democratic dissent on the war when Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, questioned the conflict's long-term costs.
"How many more years will we be appropriating at the rate of a billion dollars a day?" Mr. Byrd asked at one point.
"The president is a very popular man at this moment. So was his father in Desert Storm," Mr. Byrd said, referring to Mr. Bush's father, who lost his re-election bid in 1992 after the war with Iraq saw his popularity soar. "Fame is a vapor. Popularity an accident. Those who cheer today may curse tomorrow."
Mr. Bush enjoys record job-approval ratings, according to most major polls since the September 11 terrorist attacks.
In other budget testimony:
Mr. Rumsfeld said the Navy will maintain a low rate of ship procurement next year and use the savings to solve long-nagging problems: shortages of munitions, spare parts and training hours. Defense analysts say the Navy's anemic procurement rates put the service on a path to fall below a 300-ship fleet. "The Navy made a calculation that in the short term we can maintain the desired Navy force level because of the relatively young age of the fleet," Mr. Rumsfeld said, adding that the rate will increase steadily from 2004 to 2007.
Pressed by Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, whose home-state Newport News Shipbuilding produces nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, Mr. Rumsfeld endorsed the ships as an integral part of the force. Some civilian defense planners proposed terminating big-deck carrier production in favor of smaller, faster ships.
Navy carrier aircraft executed the lion's share of tactical strikes in Afghanistan, as Air Force jets were locked out of bases nearby.
Gen. Richard B. Myers, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, sought to clear up confusion about the role of U.S. troops in the Philippines. He said the Americans will not travel to the front lines, but will stay at the battalion level, as local forces battle the Abu Sayyaf, an Islamic terrorist group with ties to Osama bin Laden.
Pentagon Comptroller Dov Zakheim said the department is developing an umanned attack plane as an improvement over the Predator. Designed solely as a spy plane, the Predator was equipped with Hellfire missiles in Afghanistan to find and attack terrorist locations.


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