US Senate passes $700 bn defense spending bill

In this Sept. 5, 2017 photo, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., walks from his Senate office as Congress returns from the August recess in Washington. (AP)
Updated 19 September 2017

US Senate passes $700 bn defense spending bill

WASHINGTON: The US Senate overwhelmingly authorized $700 billion in defense spending Monday, a substantial increase over 2017 funding and nearly five percent more than President Donald Trump had requested.
The National Defense Authorization Act of 2018 allows for increased spending on new F-35 fighter jets, ships and M1 Abrams tanks, raises military pay by 2.1 percent and authorizes nearly $5 billion for Afghanistan security forces, including a program integrating women into the country’s national defense.
It also authorizes $8.5 billion to boost US missile defense — a full $630 million above Trump’s baseline request — at a time of heightened tensions with North Korea over its testing of nuclear devices and ballistic missiles.
The bill provides for $60 billion in war funding known as Overseas Contingency Operations, and boosted military enlistment figures by 7,000.
The legislation, one of the cornerstones of congressional bipartisanship over the decades, passed 89 to 8.
The House of Representatives passed its version in July, and the two chambers will now need to thrash out a compromise bill.
“It keeps faith with our men and women in uniform,” Republican John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said of the bill he shepherded through the chamber.
McCain was quick to point to the increasing number of training accidents within the military, saying the lack of force readiness was a result of ever-tightening budgets that left the army, navy and other branches depleted.
“My friends, more of our men and women in uniform are now being killed in totally avoidable training accidents and routine operations than by our enemies in combat,” McCain told his colleagues.
“Where is the outrage about this? Where is our sense of urgency to deal with this problem?“
The $700 billion is $91 billion beyond the spending caps outlined in the 2011 Budget Control Act, which demanded a “sequestration” of military spending in order to rein in federal costs.
McCain said it was imperative that Congress lift the spending caps on a bipartisan basis in order to fully fund military operations.
The legislation also funds European security programs with US allies, arguing that deterring “malign” Russian activities and aggression there “is an enduring function.”


3,000-strong African force planned against Sahel extremism

Updated 28 February 2020

3,000-strong African force planned against Sahel extremism

  • The force would be a significant new player in the Sahel where fighters linked to Al-Qaeda and the Daesh group killed thousands of people last year
  • The decision by African leaders comes as the United States considers cutting its military presence in Africa while urging African solutions to African problems

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia: African leaders have decided to work on deploying 3,000 troops to West Africa’s troubled Sahel region as extremist attacks surge, an African Union official said Thursday.
The force would be a significant new player in the sprawling, arid region south of the Sahara Desert where fighters linked to Al-Qaeda and the Daesh group killed thousands of people last year — at times working together in an unprecedented move.
The decision by African leaders comes as the United States considers cutting its military presence in Africa while urging African solutions to African problems. That has sparked pressure from worried security allies including France and regional countries as well as a rare bipartisan outcry among lawmakers in Washington.
Smail Chergui, the African Union commissioner for peace and security, relayed the new troop decision that was taken at the recent AU summit during a meeting Thursday with visiting European Union officials.
The AU continental body is expected to work with the West African regional counterterror force G5 Sahel as well as the West African regional body ECOWAS, which has formed peacekeeping units in the past, Chergui said.
ECOWAS in September announced what Chergui called a “very bold” plan to counter extremism in the region, including mobilizing up to $1 billion through 2024.
“As you see and recognize yourself, the threat is expanding and becoming more complex,” Chergui said. “Terrorists are now even bringing a new modus operandi from Afghanistan and Al-Shabab” in Somalia.
It was not immediately clear what the next steps would be in forming the AU force for the Sahel, which has become the most active region in Africa for extremist attacks.
The force would join France’s largest overseas military operation, the 5,100-strong Barkhane, and the 15,000-strong United Nations peacekeeping force in Mali, one of the hardest-hit countries in the attacks along with Burkina Faso and Niger.