Costs of Wars Are Lingering in Military Budget Plan – New York Times

President Obama’s final defense budget request of $524 billion in fiscal 2017 is a slight decrease from last year’s $534 billion.

WASHINGTON — President Obama’s final defense budget acknowledges that despite his oft-repeated pledge to end two protracted, costly and exhausting conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the country’s military will remain on war fronts when he departs the White House.

Mr. Obama’s request would keep the Pentagon budget largely flat, with a base defense budget of $524 billion in the 2017 fiscal year, a slight decrease from this year’s base spending of $534 billion.

But that small decrease would be offset by $59 billion to pay for military operations in the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, as well as the continued American presence in Afghanistan, alongside a new emerging threat: Russia. That is up from $51 billion for overseas operations in the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

The proposal increases spending on the fight against the Islamic State to $7.5 billion from $5 billion, a 50 percent rise. Included in the request for money to fight the Islamic State is $200 million in new spending to confront the Sunni militant extremist group in North and West Africa, defense officials said. While the officials declined to specify which countries would receive the funding, military experts pointed to Libya.

Over all, that puts the Pentagon budget — second only to Social Security in the federal budget — at $583 billion in 2017, about $1 billion short of 2016.

Congressional Republicans immediately demanded more. While last year’s congressional budget deal set Pentagon funding guidelines for 2016 and 2017, Republicans said those guidelines, particularly for war funding, were a floor and not a ceiling.

“An adequate national defense requires significantly more funding,” Representative Mac Thornberry of Texas, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a letter to the House Budget Committee that was signed by 33 other House Republicans. Mr. Thornberry suggested that House Republicans might “insist upon” $15 billion to $23 billion more.

The letter reflected increased concern among Republicans in Congress about national security in light of attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., last year, congressional aides said.

Senior defense leaders, including Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have made clear their increased worry about the spread of the Islamic State in Libya, and the chances that the group could spawn offshoots in other parts of North Africa.

The request for the increased money for North and West Africa is a sign that the United States is considering stepped-up action in Libya. Already national security agencies have increased reconnaissance flights and intelligence collecting there, and the Pentagon is preparing for possible airstrikes and commando raids, senior American policy makers, commanders and intelligence officials say. Administration officials indicate a final decision on whether to formally expand action in Libya against the Islamic State could come from Mr. Obama soon.

Defense officials said that operations in countries in West and East Africa will also see increased funding as those countries look to counter other Islamic militant extremist groups such as the Shabab in East Africa, Boko Haram in Central and West Africa, and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb in North and West Africa.

“The moneys that we’ve put into the budget to address those threats in Africa are to be able to work with indigenous forces as well as partner forces to get at those three particular threats and others that might emerge,” Gen. Paul J. Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said in a budget briefing at the Pentagon on Tuesday.

Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter is meeting in Brussels this week with members of the American-led coalition that is fighting the Islamic State, looking for ways to get other coalition members to do more, Pentagon officials say.

The Pentagon budget request also raises spending in Europe to deter Russia from further aggression in the region.

The White House is asking to substantially increase the deployment of heavy weapons, armored vehicles and other equipment to NATO countries in Central and Eastern Europe, and wants to spend more than $3.4 billion on the effort in 2017, more than quadrupling the current budget of $789 million.

The weapons and equipment will be used by American and NATO forces, ensuring that the alliance can maintain a full armored combat brigade in the region at all times.

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