WASHINGTON, Dec 19 – The US Congress on Saturday sent US President Barack Obama a massive annual military spending bill that funds current operations in Afghanistan and pays for the troop withdrawal from Iraq.
In a rare weekend vote, the Senate approved the 636.3-billion-dollar package, which cleared the House of Representatives 395-34 on Wednesday, by an 88-10 margin.
Obama is expected to send Congress an emergency spending measure of at least 30 billion dollars early next year to pay for his recently announced decision to send 30,000 more US troops to Afghanistan.
The bill includes 101.1 billion dollars for operations and maintenance and military personnel requirements in Iraq and Afghanistan and to carry out the planned withdrawal of all US combat forces from Iraq by August 2010.
The package also funds the purchase of 6,600 new Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) armoured vehicles configured to better resist improvised explosive devices — roadside bombs used to deadly effect by insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The bill includes 80 million dollars to acquire more unmanned "Predator" drones, a key tool in the US air war in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
That campaign deploys unmanned Predator and larger Reaper drones equipped with infrared cameras and armed with precision-guided bombs and Hellfire missiles.
With little public debate in the United States, the pace of the drone bombing raids has steadily increased, starting last year during ex-president George W. Bush\’s final months in office and now under Obama\’s tenure.
The spending bill upholds Obama\’s ban on torture of detainees in US custody, continues a general provision forbidding the establishment of permanent bases in Iraq or Afghanistan, and provides no funds to close the prison for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Saturday praised the bill\’s passage.
"In addition to giving our troops a pay raise and funding more than 100 million dollars for operation of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, this bill extends unemployment and makes health insurance more affordable for unemployed Americans," Reid said.
"We\’re keeping our country safe with critical investments in our defence and giving an important boost to our economy."
Reid took a swipe at rival Republicans, accusing them of "political manoeuvring" to slow down passage of the bill in order to delay debating health care reform, the next measure the Senate will be handling.