WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Some Democratic lawmakers questioned on Wednesday whether a new Bush administration request for $88 million to fit “bunker-busting” bombs to B-2 stealth bombers was part of preparations for an attack on Iran.
The proposal was included as part of a nearly $200 billion request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that the Bush administration sent to Capitol Hill on Monday.
The request included $87.8 million for further development of the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, or MOP, a conventional bomb designed to destroy hardened or deeply buried targets.
Many of Iran’s nuclear development facilities are believed to be underground. The United States accuses Iran of trying to develop a nuclear bomb while Tehran insists its nuclear program is only for power generation.
A Bush administration summary said the request was needed for “development of a Massive Ordnance Penetrator for the B-2 aircraft in response to an urgent operational need from theater commanders,” but gave no details.
“My assumption is that it is Iran, because you wouldn’t use them in Iraq, and I don’t know where you would use them in Afghanistan, it doesn’t have any weapons facilities underground that we know of,” said Rep. Jim Moran, a Virginia Democrat who is on the House defense spending committee and intends to argue against the request.
“I suppose you could try to bomb out a cave (in Afghanistan), but that seems like taking a sledgehammer to a tack. A little excessive,” Moran said in a phone interview.
Another Democrat, Rep. Jim McDermott of Washington, said the bunker-buster request worried him because of the rising tide of criticism of Iran coming from the Bush administration. Last week, Bush warned that a nuclear-armed Iran could lead to World War Three.
“The drumbeats of war are beating again, this time against Iran and we have to step in while there is still time,” McDermott said through a spokesman.
One congressional aide said, however, that the proposed program to fit the bombs to the B-2s might not be finished until 2009 or 2010 — after the Bush administration has left office.
Asked what the bunker-buster had to do with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a senior defense official briefing reporters on the war funding request earlier this week said: “Look in terms of better capabilities of bringing better, quicker precision ordnance on the target.”
“You have buried targets, for example particularly in Afghanistan, that you’re concerned about and so, to me, I think there is in fact a direct link in terms of the kinds of possibilities that might be there in this sort of capability.”
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice repeated the administration’s position on Wednesday that Bush prefers diplomacy to resolve problems with Iran, although she said all options are on the table.
The Democratic majority in Congress, which opposes prolonging the Iraq conflict, is in no hurry to give Bush more war money. House appropriators said earlier this month they would not even consider the new war funding request until early 2008, and they want to link it to a plan to bring troops home.
Additional reporting by Andrew Gray