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.
The Pentagon has anticipated rising war costs before. In January, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon R. England told a House Budget Committee hearing that, nearly four years into the war, the Pentagon's war costs were rising because it had to replace big-ticket items such as helicopters, airplanes and armored vehicles, which were wearing out or were lost in combat. "We have a backlog and are seeing an increase," England told the panel.
At that time, 11 months ago, Pentagon spokesmen said the monthly costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007 would be $9.7 billion -- $2 billion less than their most recent estimate.
One relatively new cost is the $300 monthly payments to almost all Iraqis recruited as part of the "Concerned Local Citizens" (CLC) program, which arms neighborhood groups to provide local security. The latest quarterly Iraq report by the Pentagon puts the program total at 69,000 people.
Since more than 80 percent of the CLC participants are Sunni, the Shiite-led government has hesitated to integrate them into the police force. That means that the United States will need to continue paying them until the Iraqi government "assumes full responsibility for the program," according to the Pentagon report.
Much of the CLC money is coming out of the Commanders Emergency Response Program, which until now has been used mainly for small local assistance or development projects, such as school rebuilding, roads or sanitary systems. The omnibus spending package includes $500 million in these funds.
Another category Stevens identified in the spending bill was $587 million to reset pre-positioned stocks of military equipment taken from U.S. facilities around the world to support Iraq and Afghanistan. Replenishing such stocks, Stevens said, "enhances our nation's ability to respond to contingencies," noting that "we have forces in 141 different places."
Some of the bill's spending figures that Stevens described represent what the administration sought for the full 2008 fiscal year. For example, he listed "$4.3 billion for the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Fund, which will help our troops detect and defeat the number one killer of our troops in Iraq." That is only slightly less than the figure the administration sought for the full year.
Another category that appears to have been fully funded is the military intelligence program. The administration requested $3.7 billion for the full year, and Stevens said there is "$3.7 billion to continue to enhance our intelligence activities in the theater."