Rep. Murtha not convinced that U.S. faces serious threat from Afghanistan

Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), the House’s top defense appropriator, said Wednesday that he does not believe Afghanistan poses a national security threat to the United States.

Murtha said Obama’s speech announcing the 30,000 troop increase to Afghanistan was very “impressive,” but it failed to change his mind about the situation in the country.

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The president “made a pretty good case if you believe the dangers to national security,” Murtha said.

Murtha has said for weeks that he does not see an “achievable goal” for U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Murtha hinted on Tuesday that the White House may be concerned about his potential lack of support for the president’s plan and the possible ramifications. He said that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel approached him Tuesday to ask for his backing.

Murtha also hit back at any notion that additional war money would be included in the regular 2010 defense appropriations bill now in conference negotiations between the House and the Senate. Murtha told reporters that Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), the Senate Appropriations chairman, both oppose that idea as well.

“We do not want to see the extra money put into this bill,” Murtha said at a press roundtable Wednesday.

Murtha said he sees no other way but to have an emergency war supplemental by the middle of 2010. He said he expected the Pentagon to ask for more war money regardless of the troop increase.

“Tell me, how are you going to pay for the war without a supplemental? They [the Pentagon] do not have the money to operate under the president’s budget, with or without the additional troops,” Murtha said.

The 2010 defense appropriations bill would allocate $130 billion in overseas contingency funds, but Murtha sees that money running out before the fiscal year is over.

He said the supplemental would be for $40 billion, not $30 billion as Obama said in his speech Tuesday that his new strategy and troop increase would cost. In the $40 billion Murtha predicts other operating expenses, not just those related to the troop increase, would have to be included.

Murtha, one of the co-sponsors of a war surtax bill, indicated that he did not see much success for the bill’s passage, but said that it was important to start the discussion of offsetting the costs of the eight-year war that has been funded mainly through emergency supplementals.