Gates urges Congress to approve war money fast

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (R) and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (L) prepare to testify at the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on proposed budget estimates for the FY2009 War Supplemental on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 30, 2009. REUTERS/Larry Downing

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Thursday pressed Congress to quickly approve $83.4 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and for aid to Pakistan.

Gates told lawmakers that money used to support Pakistan, Afghanistan’s neighbor which is facing a surging Taliban presence, could run out by mid-May and some funds for other operations could start running out in July.

“I urge you to take up this bill and pass it as quickly as possible, but not later than Memorial Day (May 25),” Gates told the Senate Appropriations Committee, which is considering the Obama administration’s request.

President Barack Obama earlier this month requested $83.4 billion to fund war operations and other projects through the end of fiscal 2009 on September 30, about $76 billion of which is for the military.

About $38 billion of the money is for maintaining forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, while another $11.6 billion would be used to replace or repair equipment needed for the wars. It includes money to replace lost aircraft with four F-22 fighter planes.

For Pakistan, where the U.S. fears a growing spread of militancy, the measure includes more than $400 million for counterinsurgency assistance for the Pakistani military as well as $1.4 billion in economic aid for Islamabad.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye did not say how quickly the panel would act on the funding request, but said: “it is my belief that the Senate is likely to be supportive of this request.”

On Wednesday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told Reuters he believed the request would be considered by the House of Representatives during the week of May 11.

Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky; Editing by David Storey