WASHINGTON — Congress is knocking nearly $1 billion off President Barack Obama's request for Afghanistan's security forces and instead devoting the money to buying more mine-resistant vehicles for U.S. troops there.
The move comes as top House-Senate lawmakers are putting the finishing touches on a $626 billion Pentagon spending bill that Democratic leaders hope to clear for Obama's signature by Friday. Passage of the politically popular measure has been held up for weeks because Democratic leaders want to attach other controversial items to it.
House leaders were leaning toward an end-of-session strategy Monday of wrapping the defense measure with a two-month extension of the government's ability to borrow. That authority is needed to avoid a default on the $12 trillion national debt.
The defense measure contains $128 billion to support Obama's February request for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The president has yet to request funds for his recently announced troop increase in Afghanistan, and there is no money in the bill for that.
The defense measure would trim $900 million from the Pentagon's $7.5 billion budget to train Afghan security forces. It would use the money to buy about 1,400 additional mine-resistant vehicles suited for rugged conditions in Afghanistan.
The package contains about $465 million to develop an alternative engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Air Force's multimission fighter of the future. It has no funds for new F-22 fighters. Defense Secretary Robert Gates staked his reputation on killing the jobs-rich but well-over-budget F-22 program. The jet has its origins in the Cold War era and is poorly suited for anti-insurgent battles in Iraq and Afghanistan.