FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Reuters) - President Bush (news - web sites) got a first-hand look on Friday at how Army special operations forces break up a mock riot -- complete with anti-American slogans and attack helicopters -- as he prodded Congress to pass his $379 billion defense budget without delay.

On a visit to Fort Bragg to rally troops for an expanded war on terrorism, Bush watched an extraordinarily graphic training exercise in the fictional country of "Pineland."

As he arrived, the presidential motorcade passed a quiet tree-lined road and a quaint "Welcome to Pineland" sign. Bush came face-to-face with two burned-out school buses and entered a make-shift city overrun with menacing "rioters," who taunted the president as they swarmed over a destroyed tank.

From his perch on top of a cinder-block "U.S. Embassy," Bush donned a baseball cap, protective goggles and large ear muffs to watch an elaborate training exercise.

Six special forces parachuted from 10,000 feet (3,050 meters) with oxygen, commandos rappelled from a Blackhawk helicopter, and two M-47 Chinooks dropped off armed Army Rangers -- two on motorcycles, seven in a souped-up Land Rover and others on foot.

Kicking up dust amid the explosions and commotion, an MH-6 "Little Bird" helicopter fired blanks into the crowd that shook sticks at Bush and chanted "Go home U.S.A.! Go home U.S.A.!"

As Bush watched, special forces went room-to-room in an adjacent building using explosives and machine guns to root out rioters where they hid. Army Rangers kept watch from nearby rooftops, and a refueling plane passed overhead, its gas lines tethered to two helicopter.


After about 15 minutes, Bush radioed to the commander that the battle was over. Bodies and shells littered the ground as silence fell over "Pineland."

"That was exciting. I think they're well trained," Bush said. "I'm glad they're on our side."

Earlier in nearby Fayetteville, Bush rallied the cheering troops at the Cumberland Country Coliseum Complex, saying his $379 billion military budget, with an increase of $48 billion, should be the first order of business in Congress.

Bush's proposal -- for the largest defense spending increase in two decades -- has generated concern on Capitol Hill. West Virginia Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd has complained the White House is asking for a blank check for the war on terrorism without giving lawmakers adequate explanation.

"Nothing is more important than the national security of our country. ... So nothing is more important than our defense budget," Bush said. "I've heard some of them talking about, you know, it's too big up there. Let me make this as clear as I can make it. The price for freedom is high, but it's never too high as far as I am concerned."

Bush criticized the congressional practice of waiting until nearly the end of the fiscal year -- Sept. 30 -- to get serious about passing appropriations bills.

"That's bad budgeting practices in times of peace. It's really bad budgeting practices in times of war. I expect the United States Congress to not only pass the budget as I submit it, I expect it to make it the first order of business so we can plan for this war," Bush said.

The defense budget proposal would pay for more high-tech weaponry to fight the war against terrorism. Hundreds of troops who attended Bush's speech roared with approval when he told them their pay also would increase under his proposal.

David Sirota, spokesman for Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee, accused Bush of politicizing defense spending "at a time he knows full well that there is bipartisan support for the war on terror."

"The implication that Congress would somehow inadequately fund America's armed forces at such a critical time is a totally off-base scare tactic," he said.

Bush Witnesses Military Training At Fort Bragg
By Adam Entous

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Posted on the Independent Newswire on 20 March 2002

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