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Rumsfeld Defends Military Budget Increase - 2002-02-05

The Bush administration has opened its campaign to win Congressional support for the largest boost in defense spending in two decades. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's discussed the increase before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The administration's proposed defense budget for 2003 totals $379 billion, almost $50 billion more than the current military spending plan. Much of it would go for fighting the war against terrorism, buying new high-tech weapons and paying for salary increases for military personnel.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld admits to lawmakers it is a lot of money. But he says the overall amount pales in comparison to the monetary losses and the human costs of last September's terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

Mr. Rumsfeld stressed that in a time of crisis, big investments are essential to deter and defend against new threats. "We need to work together to see that our country makes the investments necessary to deter wars, not just to win wars," he said. "And let's do so with our experience of September 11 in mind and with a renewed commitment to ensure that once the fires burn out, the war ends and the nation rebuilds, that we won't forget the lessons learned at the cost of so many innocent lives and we won't go back to the old ways of doing things."

Democrats and Republicans alike on the Senate Armed Services Committee seemed generally supportive of the budget proposal.

But there appeared to be some signs of concern among panel members over the possible expansion of the fight against terrorism beyond Afghanistan. And there were specific questions about U.S. military involvement in current anti-terrorist operations in the Philippines.

Some 270 U.S. troops are already in the country with the number expected to rise eventually to over 600. In response to questions from the panel, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, acknowledged the American soldiers could fall in harm's way, in the fight against Muslim rebels linked to the al-Qaida terrorist network.

"It's absolutely possible," said General Myers. "This is a very dangerous group. They have kidnapped many people over time. In fact they hold two Americans today, as I think we're all pretty well aware of. They have beheaded people, so it's a very dangerous group."

However General Myers stressed the fight against the rebels is being led by Philippine forces. He also disclosed American advisors would be mainly involved in training and are unlikely to take part in actual search-and-destroy patrols.