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Obama keeps Afghan war spending, Iraq costs down
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Monday proposed spending almost $110 billion on Afghanistan, signaling little let-up in the U.S. war drive despite demands for tougher spending controls at home.
Obama, in his budget for the 2012 fiscal year, proposed spending just $16 billion in Iraq -- a significant decrease as U.S. diplomats take over from combat troops under a security agreement between the two countries.
Obama had put total U.S. war costs in both countries at about $160 billion in budget requests for both 2010 and 2011.
Obama's 2012 budget request for the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) was $47 billion, up one percent from 2010 levels.
Republicans, who took control of the U.S. House of Representatives in November elections, have called for a tough new look at non-military overseas spending amid widespread calls to control the ballooning U.S. federal deficit.
With the final budget for fiscal year 2011 still not approved, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the new Republican House Speaker John Boehner Monday to voice concern over House Appropriations Committee proposals to cut the State Department and USAID budgets by some 16 percent in the current fiscal year compared to 2010.
"We certainly understand the tight budget environment," Clinton told reporters after the meeting. "But the scope of the proposed House cuts is massive. The truth is that cuts of that level will be detrimental to America's national security."
The fiscal 2012 budget request focuses on money for some of Obama's priorities including global health and food security initiatives, while cutting direct aid to several countries and regional organizations.
The budget proposes $3.1 billion in military assistance for Israel -- long a major recipient of U.S. aid -- as well as $1.3 billion in military help for Egypt, keeping funding levels constant as Washington looks to the country's army to maintain stability in the current political crisis.
Obama's budget calls for $107 billion in military spending in Afghanistan, where he has pledged to begin withdrawing the first of about 100,000 U.S. troops fighting Taliban insurgents by the middle of this year.
The State Department, mounting its own civilian "surge" aimed at stabilizing the country, would spend an additional $2.2 billion there as it seeks to increase aid and assistance programs.
While Obama has not yet announced how many U.S. troops he will withdraw from Afghanistan, his budget suggests several thousand soldiers could go home in the first year or so.
Pentagon budget documents forecast the number of troops in Afghanistan will drop to an average of 98,250 in fiscal 2012 from an average of 102,000 in fiscal 2011.
Obama also proposes maintaining significant aid to Pakistan to arm, train and equip its military to fight extremists with about $1.1 billion earmarked for the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Fund, roughly the same level as last year.
Pakistan -- a key but unsteady ally in the U.S. campaign against Islamic extremism -- would get an additional $1.9 billion in economic assistance, while Yemen, another front-line state in the battle against al Qaeda, would get a total of $120 million, up $53 million from 2010.
The peak for U.S. war funding in recent years was fiscal year 2008, the last year in office of Obama's Republican predecessor George W. Bush's last year in office, when spending on war operations hit $185 billion.
Overall, the Iraq war has still been more costly than the Afghan conflict that began after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
(Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro and Phil Stewart; editing by Anthony Boadle)
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