By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 8, 2006
The Pentagon and the State Department have recommended spending about $100 million this year to train and equip foreign militaries in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, South America and Africa as part of a new strategy to help partner nations fight terrorism beyond Iraq and Afghanistan, administration officials said yesterday.
At least eight proposals, expected to go to the White House for approval soon, include strengthening counterterrorism forces and capabilities in northern and Saharan Africa, along the 2,000-nautical mile Gulf of Guinea coast, and around the Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia maritime triangle, the officials said.
The proposals also cover stepped-up military training and equipment for Pakistan and other "critical allies in the war on terror that are fighting terrorist groups on their own soil," said one administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the plan awaits President Bush's approval. Once approved, the military assistance is expected to begin quickly because all the funds must be committed this fiscal year.
The counterterrorism initiatives fall under a unique new congressional authorization, passed in December, that allows the Pentagon to move far more quickly to aid foreign militaries in combating terrorist threats. The goal is to save U.S. lives and resources by leveraging relatively small numbers of U.S. troops -- such as Special Forces teams -- to train indigenous militaries to eliminate terrorist havens, control their borders and patrol their waterways, the officials said.
"Many global-war-on-terrorism tasks are best accomplished by and with partner nations who know the local geography, language and culture," said Eric S. Edelman, undersecretary of defense for policy, in outlining the program before the House Armed Services Committee yesterday. "This war will not be won without the help of partner nations."
The new authority is controversial because it breaks with the traditional practice of channeling military assistance through the State Department. But it requires the Pentagon to work closely with State and gives the secretary of state what officials described yesterday as a "veto" over the proposals. In fact, a number of proposals for the military aid have been eliminated in interagency discussions in recent weeks because of "political sensitivities" or "foreign policy implications," a State Department official said.
The authority, included in Section 1206 of the 2006 National Defense Authorization Act, has been a top priority for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
U.S. regional military commanders also seek more flexible authority to help foreign militaries combat terrorism -- having been frustrated by the slow bureaucratic process in Washington of cobbling together funds for military assistance, officials say.
"I have all the responsibility I need, but I have very little authority over resources," said Gen. James L. Jones, head of the U.S. European Command, which also oversees North Africa. "As I look back at the maze of the programs that we have and the interlocking bands of discussions . . . I worry that over time we are becoming very hard to work with." As a result, some countries are turning to Russia and China for military assistance, he said.
For example, it took seven months for the Pentagon to start training Georgian forces to combat terrorist havens along the country's borders after Bush announced the support in 2001. "It's either too little or too late . . . to avert or mitigate brewing crises," said one official.
The Pentagon and State Department are lobbying Congress to increase the spending authority from $200 million to $750 million a year and lift the current two-year limit to make it permanent. They also seek changes to allow the Pentagon to draw the money from a wider range of operating funds, and to allow the defense secretary to approve the proposals with the concurrence of the secretary of state -- ending the requirement for time-consuming presidential certification.
Moreover, they seek to expand the training to include not only military forces but also a wide variety of security forces such as gendarmerie and border guards -- a prospect that worries some on Capitol Hill.
Members of the House committee voiced concerns yesterday that increasing the funding would draw key resources away from the U.S. military as it fights in Iraq and Afghanistan. The new authority could also lead to Pentagon encroachment into a State Department mission with "unintended consequences" for U.S. foreign policy, they said.