Wars Cost $15 Billion a Month, GOP Senator Says

In a floor speech, Sen. Ted Stevens gave a higher figure for war costs than that of the administration.
In a floor speech, Sen. Ted Stevens gave a higher figure for war costs than that of the administration. (Lauren Victoria Burke - AP)
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By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 27, 2007

The latest estimate of the growing costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the worldwide battle against terrorism -- nearly $15 billion a month -- came last week from one of the Senate's leading proponents of a continued U.S. military presence in Iraq.

"This cost of this war is approaching $15 billion a month, with the Army spending $4.2 billion of that every month," Sen. Ted Stevens (Alaska), the ranking Republican on the Appropriations defense subcommittee, said in a little-noticed floor speech Dec. 18. His remarks came in support of adding $70 billion to the omnibus fiscal 2008 spending legislation to pay for the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, as well as counterterrorism activities, for the six months from Oct. 1, 2007, through March 31 of next year.

While most of the public focus has been on the political fight over troop levels, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) reported this month that the Bush administration's request for the 2008 fiscal year of $189.3 billion for Defense Department operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and worldwide counterterrorism activities was 20 percent higher than for fiscal 2007 and 60 percent higher than for fiscal 2006.

Pentagon spokesmen would not comment last week on Stevens's figure but said their latest estimate for monthly spending for Iraq, Afghanistan and the war on terrorism was $11.7 billion as of Sept. 30, the end of fiscal 2007.

One reason for Stevens's larger cost figure may be that U.S. troop levels in Iraq peaked at 180,000 in November, which is part of the 2008 fiscal year, and will fall only slightly in the next three months. In addition, in its December report, the CRS noted that the Pentagon does not include intelligence operations and other classified activities in its cost estimates, nor does it tally congressional add-ons for the National Guard and reserve forces.

"Stevens is being realistic," said Gordon Adams, who served as the senior national security official at the Office of Management and Budget from 1993 to 1997, in the Clinton administration.

Pointing out that Bush's request comes out to $15.8 billion per month, Adams said: "Iraq, Afghanistan, and the war on terror are not getting cheaper. . . . This will go down some, as the surge comes home, but not as much as people think."

He added: "More and more of these so-called emergency funds are being used to repair and buy new military hardware," because "the Pentagon is worried that defense budgets will start to go down next year."

The CRS reports that a good part of the increased spending is not only for replacing lost equipment but "more often to upgrade and replace 'stressed' equipment and enhance force protection." It noted that a recent Congressional Budget Office study "found that more than 40% of the Army's spending for repair and replacement of war-worn equipment" was "spent to upgrade systems to increase capability, to buy equipment to eliminate longstanding shortfalls in inventory" and to convert new combat units to more flexible organizational structures.

Stevens made it clear that the $70 billion in the omnibus bill for the wars will cover only costs for the six months ending March 31, when Congress will again have to wrestle with a supplemental spending bill to pay for the wars. By then, Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ryan C. Crocker, the U.S. ambassador, will have presented Congress with their update on the situation in Iraq.

Last Friday, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said that he hopes troop levels, which drive costs, could continue to go down in 2008. But he warned that they would continue only "if conditions on the ground" permit sustaining "the gains we have already made."

One indication of how fast costs are rising is that operations and maintenance costs for all of fiscal 2007 were $72 billion, and the entire fiscal year 2008 request was $81 billion, according to the CRS.


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