The top U.S. diplomat in Iraq on Tuesday defended the size and cost of the State Department's operations in that country, telling lawmakers that a significant diplomatic footprint will be necessary after the withdrawal of U.S. troops at the end of this year.
James F. Jeffrey, the U.S. ambassador in Iraq, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that his staff of 8,000 will grow in the coming year to about 17,000 people, the vast majority of whom will be contractors.
And while the State Department is spending about $2 billion annually on Iraq operations now, it plans to spend an additional $1 billion on the construction of facilities in each of the next several years.
"While all U.S. government work is expensive in Iraq due to the security situation, a robust civilian presence represents a significant savings for taxpayers from the bills they have been paying for the past eight years," Jeffery said in his prepared statement.
The U.S. mission will also need to expand its fleet of four fixed-wing transport aircraft and a fleet of 37 helicopters operated by State's Bureau of International Narcotics out of three airports in the country.
The State Department asked the Pentagon to transfer 24 Black Hawk helicopters to the mission, but the military needed them in Afghanistan, Jeffrey told the senators. As a result, State has had to purchase 20 additional Sikorsky helicopters and four more Hueys.
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