WASHINGTON – The House on Tuesday sent President Barack Obama a major war-funding increase of $33 billion to pay for his troop surge in Afghanistan, unmoved by the leaking of classified documents that portray a military effort struggling between 2004 and 2009 against a strengthening insurgency.
The House voted, 308-114, to approve the spending boost for the additional 30,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Other non-war provisions brought the total bill to nearly $59 billion.
From Obama on down, the disclosure of the documents was condemned by administration officials and military leaders on Tuesday, but the material failed to stir new anti-war sentiment. The bad news for the White House: A pervasive weariness with the war was still there — and possibly growing.
Republicans in Congress still were strongly behind the boost in war spending, but there was unusually strong opposition from members of Obama’s own Democratic Party. All but 12 of the “no” votes in the House came from Democrats.
In debate before the vote, Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said the leaked documents revealed corruption and incompetence in the Afghanistan government.
“We’re told we can’t extend unemployment or pay to keep cops on the beat or teachers in the classroom but we’re asked to borrow another $33 billion for nation-building in Afghanistan,” McGovern said.
At a Senate hearing on prospects for a political settlement of the Afghan conflict, there was scant mention of the leaked material, posted on the website of the whistleblower group WikiLeaks, but there were repeated expressions of frustration over the direction of the fighting.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who has questioned the realism of U.S. goals in Afghanistan though he supports the war, pointedly asked why the Taliban, with fewer resources and smaller numbers, can field fighters who are more committed to winning than are Afghan soldiers.
“What’s going on here?” Kerry asked with exasperation.
But Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a vocal supporter of the war, took issue at a separate hearing with anyone who would argue that the leaked documents buttress arguments for withdrawing now from Afghanistan.
“In actuality, the emerging picture from these documents appears to be little more than what we knew already: that the war in Afghanistan was deteriorating over the past several years,” McCain said.
Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis told senators at a hearing on his nomination to lead the military’s Central Command that, whatever other lessons are drawn from the WikiLeaks documents, no one should doubt that the U.S. is committed to staying in Afghanistan until it wins.
“We are on the right track now,” Mattis said, while predicting that the U.S. casualty rate would increase in coming months as still more U.S. troops join the fight against the Taliban.
In his first public comments on the weekend leak of tens of thousands of documents, Obama said it could “potentially jeopardize individuals or operations” in Afghanistan. But he also said the papers did not reveal any concerns that were not already part of the war debate.
Obama said the shortcomings in Afghanistan as reflected in the leaked documents explain why, last year, he undertook an in-depth review of the war and developed a new strategy.
“We’ve substantially increased our commitment there, insisted upon greater accountability from our partners in Afghanistan and Pakistan, developed a new strategy that can work and put in place a team, including one of our finest generals, to execute that plan,” Obama said. “Now we have to see that strategy through.”
In the House, Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., said he was torn between his obligation to bring the bill to the floor and his “profound skepticism” that the money would lead to a successful conclusion of the war.
Even if there were greater confidence, he said, “it would likely take so long it will obliterate our ability to make the kinds of long-term investments in our own country that are so desperately needed.”
The leaked documents are battlefield reports compiled by various military units in Afghanistan that provide an unflinching view of combat operations between 2004 and 2009, including U.S. displeasure over reports that Pakistan secretly aided insurgents fighting American and Afghan forces.
Even as the administration dismissed the leaked documents as outdated, U.S. military and intelligence analysts were caught up in a struggle to limit the damage contained in the once-secret files now scattered across the Internet.
In Baghdad, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters he was “appalled” by the leak, which he said had the potential of putting troops’ lives at added risk.
Officials also are concerned about the impact the disclosures could have on the military’s human intelligence network built up over the past eight years inside Afghanistan and Pakistan. The people in that network range from Afghan village elders who have worked behind the scenes with U.S. troops to militants working as double agents.
Beyond expressions of disgust at the document dump, the political fallout in Washington appeared limited.
Advocates of pulling U.S. troops out of Afghanistan said the leaks reinforced their argument for disengaging. War supporters said they illustrated why Obama was right to decide last December to send an additional 30,000 troops and step up pressure on the Afghan government to reform, while pressing Pakistan to go after insurgents on its side of the border.
At the State Department, spokesman P.J. Crowley said efforts to explain to Afghanistan and other allies that the U.S. government played no role in leaking the documents seemed to have paid off.
“We’re very gratified that the response thus far internationally has been moderate, sober,” Crowley said.
In his only reference to the leak, Kerry called the new material “over-hyped,” said that it was released in violation of the law and that it largely involved raw intelligence reports from the field.
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