- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Pentagon officials are seeking authority, now held by the State Department, to oversee funding for foreign militaries.

The State Department agrees with the change, but some lawmakers are concerned.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates yesterday asked members of the House Armed Services Committee to approve the change.

“For a long time, programs like the State Department’s foreign military financing were of minimal interest to the U.S. armed forces,” Mr. Gates told the committee. “That our military would one day need to build large amounts of partner capacity to fulfill its mission is something that was not anticipated. … The attacks of 9/11 and the operations that have followed around the globe reinforced to military planners that the security of America’s partners is essential to America’s own security.”

Three years ago, Congress authorized a Defense Department pilot program, known as Section 1206, to train and equip foreign militaries for counter-terrorism or stability operations, along with another three-year program that allowed the State Department to redirect Pentagon funds for governance, training and equipping, and other stabilization programs.

Section 1206 “provides commanders a means to fill long-standing gaps in the effort to help other nations build and sustain” military forces, allowing the State and Defense departments to respond in months rather than years, Mr. Gates said.

Mr. Gates said the program has provided “urgently needed parts and ammunition” to the Lebanese army to defeat al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists in a Palestinian refugee camp and supplied helicopter spare parts, night-vision devices and night-flight training for Pakistani special forces to fight al Qaeda in the northwestern territories.

Mr. Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told House members that their agencies must work together to deal with global security challenges. The State Department traditionally has overseen the foreign military assistance program.

Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, Missouri Democrat, noted widespread support for the Pentagon and State Department proposals but also “some concern” that “had to do with what appears to be the migration of State Department activities to the Defense Department.”

Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, the ranking Republican on the committee, said the Defense Department would be taking on what he sees are State Department roles.

“Congress has recognized the need for the Defense Department to play in this foreign-assistance arena,” Mr. Hunter said. “However, I note that Congress enacted many of these programs on a temporary basis,” with the intent only to provide a “stopgap” measure.

Miss Rice said the State Department faced numerous challenges in helping civilians stabilize Afghanistan and other war-torn nations.

“We simply didn’t have a civilian institution that could take on the task of providing stabilization in the wake of war or civil war,” Miss Rice said. “As a result, I would be the first to say that our military did take on more tasks than perhaps would have been preferred. And we began some work when I was still national security adviser to think through how we might build a civilian institution that would be up to the task.”

Miss Rice also testified on the State Department’s fiscal 2009 budget, which requests 1,100 more Foreign Service officers and 300 more officers for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The State Department also is looking for $249 million to develop a corps of diplomats, made up of federal workers and private-sector volunteers, to help with reconstruction in volatile areas such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

Mr. Hunter questioned the culture at the State Department, telling Miss Rice that employees voiced concern during a town-hall meeting that assignments to Baghdad’s Green Zone were too dangerous and that the department was unable to fill nearly 42 vacancies.

“I was deeply offended myself and deeply sorry that these people who had self-selected into this town hall went out of their way, to my view, cast a very bad light on the Foreign Service,” Miss Rice said.

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