From combined dispatches
The Pentagon has urged Congress not to extend recent increases in “imminent danger pay” and “family separation allowances” to U.S. troops in war zones, citing the extra $225 monthly for the two pay categories.
The action has stirred anger among military families, veterans groups, congressional Democrats and even prompted an editorial attack in the Army Times, a weekly newspaper for military personnel and their families that is seldom so outspoken.
Imminent-danger pay, given to Army, Navy, Marine and Air Force members in combat zones, was raised to $225 from $150 a month in April. The family separation allowance, which goes to help military families pay rent, child care or other expenses while troops are away, was raised from $100 a month to $250.
The Pentagon’s personnel chief, David Chu, yesterday told reporters that the outrage was misguided and that overall compensation for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan remains stable by giving them other forms of pay raises.
“I would just like to very quickly put to rest what I understand has been a burgeoning rumor that somehow we are going to reduce compensation for those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Mr. Chu said. “That is not true. We are not going to reduce that compensation.”
Mr. Chu spoke after the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the Pentagon wanted to cut the pay of nearly 149,000 troops in Iraq and another 9,000 in Afghanistan because it supported the expiration of the increases. Both benefits are set to expire Sept. 30 unless extended by Congress.
Yesterday, presidential contenders and congressional Democrats criticized the Pentagon for opposing the legislation.
“If it’s part of a cruel game of Washington budgeting, it’s an abuse of our soldiers,” Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, said while campaigning in Iowa.
“If it’s not, and the Bush administration is really considering cutting the pay of the men and women they asked to serve, then it’s a betrayal of our troops,” he added.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, called the Pentagon’s position a disgrace.
“The Bush administration’s decision to cut the pay of our troops in Iraq is unconscionable,” he said. “It’s bad enough that President Bush left our troops underprepared to win the peace in Iraq. Now the commander in chief is about to add insult to injuries by commandeering the imminent-danger pay increase that Congress approved earlier this year.”
The Senate and House have proposed different versions of the extension. The House would limit the increases to those troops who are serving in the Iraq and Afghanistan combat zones, but not those who are supporting those war efforts from bases outside the combat zone. The Senate provision makes no such distinction in assignment locations.
In a July 9 “appeal” to the Senate and House spelling out its position on provisions of the 2004 defense authorization bill, the Pentagon urged that both the Senate and House provisions be dropped.
The Pentagon said it opposed the House version because it would exclude troops who are supporting the Iraq and Afghanistan wars but are serving outside the combat zones. It said it opposed the Senate version because the Defense Department “has not budgeted for these increases.”
Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Maryland Democrat, joined in criticizing the Pentagon’s position.
“Surely, we can afford to pay our men and women risking their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan the money they deserve,” he said.
In a letter to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Mr. Ruppersberger asked that the matter be reconsidered.
“This sends the wrong message to our soldiers and families,” Mr. Ruppersberger wrote. “It says to them the Pentagon does not care about their well-being. It suggests that their efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan are no longer dangerous.”
Military families have started hearing about the looming pay reductions, and many aren’t happy.
They say duty in Iraq is dangerous — 57 Americans have died in combat-related incidents since Mr. Bush declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq on May 1. Another 69 have been killed by disease, the heat or in accidents.
It’s rare for the independent Army Times, which is distributed widely among Army personnel, to blast the Pentagon, the White House and the Congress. But in this instance, the paper has said in recent editorials that Congress was wrong to make the pay raises temporary, and the Pentagon is wrong to call for a rollback.
“The bottom line: If the Bush administration felt in April that conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan warranted increases in danger pay and family separation allowances, it cannot plausibly argue that the higher rates are not still warranted today,” the paper said in an editorial in its current edition.
Staff reporter Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.
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