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An IED detection robot in Baghdad

Blood and treasure

Support for the troops carries a price tag

Issue: "Not angry anymore," Dec. 1, 2007

Democrats like to say that they support the troops even if they do not support the war in Iraq. In reality, fighting a protracted war takes money, and with passage of last month's House Appropriations supplemental bill, we have the latest numbers to measure that support.

The so-called "bridge," or temporary, spending bill, provides 25 percent of the Bush administration's request to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It provides enough cash flow to finance war expenses through mid-January, said Amy Belasco of the Congressional Research Service-a mere six weeks away. Belasco told lawmakers that by "slowing non-readiness-related operating funding" for its regular activities, the Pentagon might stretch the money through February. That may be necessary because the supplement's language stipulates that Congress will not again consider war funding until February.

Putting "non-readiness" expenses on slo-mo also can be another way of saying let's don't fight the next war, either. While personnel and operations costs under the bill are funded at 48 percent of the Pentagon's request, procurement and research and development categories receive no funding.

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That may cripple one aspect of U.S. warfighting with both a current and future payoff: anti-IED projects. Gen. Montgomery Meigs, who directs the Pentagon's Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), told lawmakers last week the threat of improvised explosive devices, or roadside bombs, remains the most serious risk faced by soldiers in Iraq, even as developments to counter IEDs are beginning to reap results. Overall attacks on U.S. soldiers have fallen 55 percent this year, and experts credit two main factors: the arrival of nearly 30,000 additional troops following a strict counterinsurgency strategy, and equipping more soldiers with the means to counter IEDs.

IEDs come wrapped in diapers, trash bags, or tubes buried along roadways. They can be remotely detonated using cell phones, garage door openers, or doorbells. But as the sophistication of these devices increases, JIEDDO has developed new ways to counter them: Vehicle-mounted jamming devices are now supplemented with portable backpack jammers carried by soldiers on patrol. Troops are using more blast-resistant vehicles, mine rollers, even IED-detecting robots. And they are moving from attacking the devices to attacking the networks that make and distribute them.

To keep that effort going, Rep. John Murtha, chairman of the House Defense appropriations subcommittee, said the military can borrow against what was approved in the supplemental. "Protecting soldiers from IEDs has been an absolute priority for this Congress," Murtha said in a statement Nov. 19. Words, my friends, words.


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