US Congress passes $767 billion defence Bill

 US Congress approved a massive defence spending Bill for 2015 on Friday which includes emergency funding for military operations against Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria. -- PHOTO: AFP
 US Congress approved a massive defence spending Bill for 2015 on Friday which includes emergency funding for military operations against Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria. -- PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The US Congress adopted a massive US defence spending Bill for 2015 on Friday which includes emergency funding for military operations against Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria, as requested by President Barack Obama.

The legislation passed 89 votes to 11 in the Senate one week after it sailed through the House.

It outlines US$584.2 billion (S$766.72 billion) in federal military spending for fiscal year 2015, which began on Oct 1.

The National Defense Authorisation Act (NDAA) was a culmination of months of negotiations.

It extends training and equipping for moderate Syrian rebels, a programme that had been authorised to last only until Dec 11, using existing Pentagon money.

It also includes Obama's US$5 billion request for funds to battle the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria extremist group, including US$3.4 billion for deployment of US forces as part of operation "Inherent Resolve," and US$1.6 billion for a program to equip and train Iraqi Kurdish forces for two years.

The authorisation includes US$63.7 billion for overseas operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.

"This Bill includes a pay raise for members of the armed services, it enhances our efforts to keep our war fighters safe on the battlefield, and it authorises the resources needed to responsibly conclude our combat mission in Afghanistan," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a statement.

Mr Obama's request for US$520 million for the State Department's humanitarian and diplomatic efforts was also included.

But despite opposition from Mr Obama, the Bill extends restrictions on closing the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

A ban on transferring detainees to the United States, in force since 2011, was renewed.

Republicans fear the detainees might be freed by a judge and thus constitute a threat to national security.

Thirteen prisoners have been sent to other countries this year, and 142 men remain in the prison.

Among the Bill's hundreds of provisions, the measure provides for a one percent pay raise for uniformed personnel, expands sexual assault prevention and response provisions, and requires the military to provide annual mental health screenings for service members.

It also protects the fleet of A-10 close-air support aircraft, a measure for which Senator John McCain lobbied hard.

The US Air Force had proposed retiring more than 100 A-10s, but the NDAA would prevent any such retirements in 2015.

Defence spending accounts for just over half of the US government's budget for so-called discretionary spending, which excludes social welfare.