By William E. Gibson
WASHINGTON — With passionate prodding from South Florida Congressman Allen West, the U.S. House passed a $642 billion defense bill on Friday that would limit President Barack Obama’s plans to reduce the number of American troops and wind down the war in Afghanistan.
West, a former Army commander in Iraq and military adviser in Afghanistan, made an emotional appeal for the Republican-sponsored bill, which is designed to slow the pace of withdrawal from Afghanistan and fend off bigger cuts to the Pentagon budget.
When Democrats tried to amend the bill to hasten the end of the war, West, R-Plantation, angrily fired back: “What you are telling our men and women in combat, what you are saying to the enemy, is that we are going to leave those men and women hanging, that we are not going to provide them the resources.”
“Why in God’s name would we want to repeat some of the horrible things that I saw my older brother go through in Vietnam, where we restricted funding?”
The debate showed West’s impact on defense matters as a member of the Armed Services Committee. Some members have deferred to West, a freshman, because of his experience as an Army lieutenant colonel who led troops in combat and because of his popularity among tea-party conservatives across the country.
“No one knows the perils of an insufficiently manned Army better than Allen West,” said Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif.
West inserted a provision that would limit the Army’s troop reductions to no more than 15,000 a year and Marine Corps reductions to no more than 5,000 a year during fiscal 2014 through 2017. The Pentagon proposes to reduce the Army by 72,000 and the Marines by 20,000.
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