Afghan deal, Israel aid: A look at $740bn US defence bill

US Congress overwhelming passes US military budget bill that President Donald Trump has promised to veto.

The United States Congress has overwhelmingly approved a national defence bill authorising an annual $740bn US military budget – the world’s largest – for the 2021 fiscal year, despite President Donald Trump’s promise to use his veto.

The bill would limit Trump’s authority to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, South Korea and Germany in the closing days of his presidency – and authorises $69bn for overseas military operations.

Among a slew of measures, the bill contains several provisions affecting countries in the Middle East, including $3.1bn in annual US military aid to Israel included in a 10-year commitment reached by former President Barack Obama.

It also addresses the Trump administration’s plan to pull some American troops out of Afghanistan. The Pentagon said last month that the number of US troops would decrease from 4,500 to 2,500 before the end of Trump’s term.

The defence bill requires the Trump administration to submit a detailed report to Congress before withdrawing US troops in Afghanistan as agreed with the Taliban, and submit its February 29 peace agreement with the Taliban to Congress for review and oversight.

The incoming Biden administration must also report back on the Taliban’s compliance with the deal, the bill stipulates.

Lawmakers also authorised $4bn in US assistance to the Afghan National Security Forces and an extension of a special visa programme for Afghan nationals who assist US forces in the country.
Yemen war, Turkey sanctions

Congress also is requiring the Pentagon submit a report within 120 days on US support for the Saudi-led coalition campaign in Yemen that has been blamed for civilian deaths and what the United Nations has described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

US legislators have repeatedly raised concerns about Washington’s support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, but last year, Trump vetoed a bill that sought to end the US’s involvement in the conflict.

Meanwhile, the defence bill also maintains Congress’s prohibition on the closure of the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The bill authorises $645m for US operations to counter the ISIL (ISIS) group and authorises support for “vetted Syrian groups” while prohibiting funding and arms transfers for groups deemed to be affiliated with al-Qaeda.

The bill identifies China and Russia as the US’s top strategic adversaries and seeks to invest in new, hypersonic weapons technology. “Both China and Russia are ahead of us in hypersonics,” Senator James Inhofe, the Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said.

Among its many provisions, the bill requires that US sanctions be imposed on Turkish officials involved in the acquisition of Russia’s S-400 anti-aircraft missile system within 30 days of the bill becoming law.

Ankara’s purchase of the S-400 has been a major sticking point with Washington, with US legislators saying the system could threaten NATO technologies, including the F-35 fighter jet. Turkey has rejected that claim.

Last year, the Trump administration kicked Turkey out of the F-35 programme due to the S-400 issue.
Trump veto planned

White House officials said on December 8 that Trump would likely veto the defence bill for a number of reasons.

“Numerous provisions of this conference report directly contradict the administration’s foreign policy, particularly the president’s efforts to bring our troops home,” the White House said in a statement.

The president on Friday also claimed credit for avoiding war and for ordering US troop withdrawals.

Trump further objected to language in the bill providing for the renaming of US military bases named for Confederate military figures who fought for the South in the American Civil War of 1861-65.

A proposal put forward by Senator Elizabeth Warren and 35 other Democratic senators in June, amid Black Lives Matters protests across the US, sets up a commission to study and recommend the removal of Confederate names and symbols within three years.

Trump also demanded the bill include a repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields large tech companies, such as Google, Twitter and Facebook, from liability for what appears on their platforms.

Inhofe said that a repeal could not be a part of this bill as it has nothing to do with national defence, however.

The president has 10 days to decide whether he will veto the bill, thereby sending it back to Congress to vote on again.

Both the Senate and House of Representatives passed the defence authorisation bill by more than the two-thirds majorities necessary to overcome a presidential veto, signalling that they could likely overcome Trump’s effort.

The Republican-led Senate voted 84 to 13 to approve the bill after it passed the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives by a vote of 335 to 78 earlier this week.