(Adds comment from defense official)
WASHINGTON, Feb 9 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama is proposing about $200 million in new military spending to confront Islamist militants in north and west Africa, U.S. defense officials said ahead of Tuesday’s budget rollouts for the next fiscal year.
U.S. officials declined to specify to which nations the funding would be directed. The disclosure comes as the United States and its allies discuss ways to halt the spread of Islamic State in Libya and elsewhere in Africa from its self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq.
The proposed increase in U.S. defense spending for north and west Africa is a component of a larger $7.5 billion Pentagon request for fiscal year 2017 to counter Islamic State.
“The marginal increase is on the order of about $200 million associated with north Africa,” one U.S. defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to a small group of reporters.
Another U.S. defense official told Reuters the funds would also be directed to west Africa.
Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force General Paul Selva said the new funding was aimed at addressing threats from militant groups across Africa, including al Shabaab in the east, Boko Haram in the west, and Islamic State in Libya.
“The monies 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,” Selva said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter last week announced his intention to ramp up spending to counter Islamic State as he unveiled the broad details of Obama’s proposed $582.7 billion defense budget.
A key part of the $7.5 billion would go to munitions. Carter said the United States has used so many smart bombs and laser-guided rockets in Iraq and Syria that it is running low and needs to invest $1.8 billion for 45,000 more.
The Air Force budget includes about 4,500 small diameter bombs, doubling the previous year’s purchase. It also calls for more than 30,000 Boeing Co Joint Direct Attack Munition tail kits, which turn unguided bombs into all-weather smart munitions using GPS guidance systems, compared to about 22,000 the previous year. The Navy is slated to buy 100 Hellfire missiles built by Lockheed Martin Corp, with the Air Force planning to buy around 280.
The U.S. officials also said some of the $7.5 billion would go toward training and equipping Iraqi forces and fighters in Syria to counter Islamic State.
Lieutenant General Vincent Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, warned on Monday of the group’s expansion to Libya, Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Nigeria, Algeria and elsewhere.
The United States has a limited permanent military presence in Africa, largely centered on a U.S. base in Djibouti.
Islamic State forces have attacked Libya’s oil infrastructure and taken control of the city of Sirte, exploiting a power vacuum in which two rival governments have been battling for supremacy.
The Pentagon has said planning is underway to confront the group in Libya, although significant political hurdles could slow any new campaign by the U.S. and its allies there.
Carter will meet with allies in Brussels this week to discuss ways to accelerate the campaign against Islamic State. (Additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati and Andrea Shalal; editing by Warren Strobel, Stuart Grudgings and Chizu Nomiyama)
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