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Bush: Troops Making 'Steady Advance'

Bush: Troops Making 'Steady Advance'

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush, asking Congress for $74.7 billion to pay for six months of combat, said Monday that coalition forces are "on a steady advance" in Iraq but said he could not predict how long the war will last.

"We cannot know the duration of this war, yet we know its outcome: We will prevail," Bush, commander in chief of 300,000 troops in the Persian Gulf, told U.S. military personnel at the Pentagon.

"The Iraq regime will be disarmed. The Iraq regime will be ended. The Iraq people will be free and our world will be more secure and peaceful," he said.

"Americans can be confident in the people who wear our nation's uniforms," he said.

The bulk of the request, $62.6 billion, will support U.S. troops both in Iraq and other operations related to the broader war on terrorism, the White House said. The rest of the money will go to humanitarian assistance in Iraq, other foreign aid and homeland defense programs in the United States.

The package will help pay for transportation of forces to the Persian Gulf region, supplying troops and maintaining equipment. It also will allow the Pentagon to replace cruise missiles, smart bombs and other high-tech munitions, and provide combat pay to troops.

Bush refused to provide a cost estimate before the attack on Iraq started, asserting there were too many variables to give a reliable price tag. On Monday, five days into the military campaign, the administration tipped its hand, outlining for congressional budget chiefs his spending plans in the form of a "supplemental" request.

Standing in front of a display of military service flags, Bush asked Congress for flexibility in spending the money and said he wanted the bill on his desk as soon as possible. Aides said his target date was April 11.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., told reporters on Capitol Hill that Congress would try to meet that timetable.

On the eve of a visit at his Camp David, Md., mountaintop retreat with ally Tony Blair of Britain, Bush said, "Our coalition is on a steady advance. We're making good progress."

The remarks and the prime minister's overnight stay Wednesday are part of a campaign by United States and British officials to brace their citizens for a war that could be longer and tougher than many expected. After early gains, coalition forces have suffered casualties -- at least 20 U.S. troops have been killed and 14 captured or missing in war on Iraq.

"The situation in any war is fluid," Bush said.

"We're fighting an enemy that knows no rules of law, that will wear civilian uniforms, that are willing to kill in order to continue the reign of fear of Saddam Hussein. But we're fighting them with bravery and courage," the president said.

Frist conceded that the price tag of the supplemental appropriations bill might grow, with lawmakers interested in adding funds for local emergency workers and perhaps to aid financially troubled airlines.

"The president made it very clear this was the best estimate of what they believe the cost of the war is," Frist said.

Meanwhile, a senior administration official said national security adviser Condoleezza Rice was visiting the United Nations Tuesday to discuss humanitarian issues with Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Lawmakers grumbled after a Monday meeting with Bush that they were frozen out of their oversight role on spending, and predicted Bush would soon return asking for more war money.

"This is just the beginning. This is the first down payment, and the American people have the right to know that," said Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va.

"I told the president that I was glad to be invited down today to discuss the supplemental bill, but I said that Congress ought to be in at the start of the process and not just brought in at the end to sign the check," Byrd said.

A senior administration official said the White House kept its estimates close to the vest because it could only have provided projections that varied widely depending on different scenarios, such as Saddam Hussein's surrender versus full-scale war.

The White House concluded that sharing projections privately with lawmakers would have led to leaks, said this official, who sidestepped a question about why the administration did not want the public to know the war cost estimates.

A supplemental appropriations bill, in effect, is Congress' way of writing a check to cover special emergency or unanticipated expenses not provided for through the regular appropriations process.

Bush tacked aid to various other countries onto the budget request -- most of them regional neighbors like Jordan and Israel.

Turkey was once promised $15 billion to let in U.S. troops for a ground war. Turkey refused, and Bush responded by slashing the aid to $1 billion.

Far-flung nations including the Philippines, Colombia and Afghanistan are among the other aid beneficiaries in the budget measure -- all tucked under the heading "Global War on Terrorism" on an administration summary sheet.

In all, Bush budgets $7.85 billion for humanitarian relief, reconstruction and foreign aid.

Homeland security would get $4.24 billion and coalition allies get $1.4 billion. The staunchest of Bush's partners, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, was meeting Wednesday and Thursday with Bush at Camp David.

Democrats said they were alarmed at Bush's plan to give broad discretion to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on details of how Pentagon funds will be spent. Bush made a similar request last year, which members of both parties forced him to change and to provide details on how the money would be used.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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