WASHINGTON, Feb. 17, 2011 — The United States’ is at risk of losing its gains in Iraq if Congress doesn’t fully fund the State Department’s mission there, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today.
“If the State Department doesn’t get the money they’ve requested for Iraq, then we really are in the soup on this,” Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee during a hearing about the Defense Department’s fiscal 2012 budget request.
The military is drawing down its mission in Iraq and is scheduled to turn over leadership for the U.S. role there to the State Department in October, with a military withdrawal slated by the end of the year.
While testifying about the DOD budget, Gates was asked about the transition in Iraq. The United States has spent billions of dollars and lost nearly 4,000 Americans in Iraq since U.S. operations began there in 2003, Gates noted.
“Here we are at the end game and it reminds me of the final scene in Charlie Wilson’s War,” the secretary said, referencing the motion picture about the late congressman’s efforts to maintain support in Afghanistan after the United States helped defeat the Soviet Union there. “We spent $1 billion to drive the Soviets out, but we couldn’t get $1 million to build schools.” When the United States went away, the Taliban took over.
If the State Department doesn’t have “a presence throughout Iraq, then much of what we’ve done to get Iraq where they are is at risk,” the secretary said.
Already the transition process in Iraq is being hampered by Congress’ failure to pass the fiscal 2011 Defense and State department budgets, Gates said, leaving the departments to exist on continuing resolution money.
“On a continuing resolution, the State Department can’t spend money to get ready right now,” he said. “There are facilities to be built, people to be hired… They can’t do any of that, and so we’re going to run out of time.”
Gates said a new State Department office in Baghdad is slated to have 157 personnel to advise, assist and develop Iraqi forces and oversee $13 billion in U.S. military equipment sales to Iraq.
“I think you’ll find extraordinary support all across the Department of Defense” for State’s funding request, he said.
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