House axes stability ops center

Lawmakers want to cut project’s funding, surprising some

Pentagon officials want to create a Web portal for sharing lessons learned from counterinsurgency and stabilization operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but a recent move by Congress could jeopardize those plans.

Defense Department officials devised the idea last fall of a governmentwide center to integrate training and education programs for post-conflict operations, which they referred to as a consortium for complex operations (CCO).

As envisioned by DOD, a portal would serve as the main tool for information sharing among agencies participating in the project. The Pentagon, State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development are part of the founding group.

Late last month, the House Appropriations Committee’s Defense Subcommittee recommended cutting the $2.5 million DOD had requested for the CCO. The panel’s report includes no explanation for the cut. A spokesman for subcommittee Chairman John Murtha (D-Pa.) did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

The House passed its version of the bill Aug. 5. The Senate is expected to consider the legislation after the summer recess. If senators fund the CCO, lawmakers will need to resolve their differences in a conference committee.

In his Jan. 23 confirmation hearing to become commander of Multi-National Forces-Iraq, Army Gen. David Petraeus asked senators to support the CCO. “This appears to be a low-cost but high-payoff action that the committee should consider supporting,” the general told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

When Pentagon officials unveiled their fiscal 2008 budget request, they included the relatively small CCO request in the larger — and controversial — request for the Defense Security Cooperation Agency.

DSCA manages the sale of U.S. weaponry to allies abroad. In recent years, Pentagon officials also have put the agency in charge of a new program that would strengthen foreign security forces worldwide. The Pentagon wants $500 million and expanded authority to spend those funds for 2008 but has met skepticism on Capitol Hill.

Lawmakers made $1.8 million available for the CCO in the 2007 war supplemental bill passed in the spring. DOD has since transferred more than half of those funds to the United States Institute of Peace to conduct a governmentwide survey of training and education programs that can help stabilize and rebuild war-torn countries.

DOD officials say the $2.5 million in 2008 is crucial to establishing the CCO.

The House move to defund the CCO caught many DOD officials and others by surprise.

Tammy Schultz, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, said that it signals a new trend among Democratic lawmakers.

She said some Democrats may be growing unwilling to fund programs to institutionalize the counterinsurgency and stabilization operations capabilities U.S. forces now use as a result of the intervention in Iraq.

“The hope is that we don’t need these capabilities any more” after Bush leaves office, she said. “History suggests otherwise.”

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