Thursday, September 28, 2006


War Costs Nearly $2 Billion Weekly!

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Cost of Iraq War Nearly $2 Billion a Week
By Bryan Bender
The Boston Globe

Thursday 28 September 2006

Washington - A new congressional analysis shows the Iraq war is now costing taxpayers almost $2 billion a week - nearly twice as much as in the first year of the conflict three years ago and 20 percent more than last year - as the Pentagon spends more on establishing regional bases to support the extended deployment and scrambles to fix or replace equipment damaged in combat.

The upsurge occurs as the total cost of military operations at home and abroad since 2001, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, will top half a trillion dollars, according to an internal assessment by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service completed last week.

The spike in operating costs - including a 20 percent increase over last year in Afghanistan, where the mission now costs about $370 million a week - comes even though troop levels in both countries have remained stable. The reports attribute the rising costs in part to a higher pace of fighting in both countries, where insurgents and terrorists have increased their attacks on US and coalition troops and civilians.

Another major factor, however, is "the building of more extensive infrastructure to support troops and equipment in and around Iraq and Afghanistan," according to the report. Based on Defense Department data, the report suggests that the construction of so-called semi-permanent support bases has picked up in recent months, making it increasingly clear that the US military will have a presence in both countries for years to come.

The United States maintains it is not building permanent military bases in Iraq or Afghanistan, where the local population distrusts America's long-term intentions.

But for the first time, a major factor in the growth of war spending is the result of a dramatic rise in "investment costs," or spending needed to sustain a long-term deployment of American troops in the two countries, the report said. These include the additional purchases of protective equipment for troops, such as armored Humvees, radios, and night-vision equipment; new tanks and other equipment to replace battered gear from Army and Marine Corps units that have been deployed numerous times in recent years; and growing repair bills for damaged equipment, what the military calls "reset" costs.

At least one lawmaker, referring to reports of equipment shortages in the war zones and at US bases where troops are training for combat, says some of the spending is misplaced. "While we are spending billions in Iraq to build and maintain massive bases, we cannot [effectively] repair our abused equipment or replace it," US Representative Martin T. Meehan , a Lowell Democrat and member of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement.

The Pentagon, which had previously made public its own estimate of operating costs, has not released up-to-date war costs.

The Congressional Research Service report estimates that after Congress approves two pending bills, the total war costs since Sept. 11, 2001, will reach about $509 billion. Of that, $379 billion will cover the cost of operations in Iraq, $97 billion will be the price tag for Afghanistan operations, and $26 billion will have gone to beefed-up security at US military bases around the world.

Though the military's operational costs in Iraq and Afghanistan have gone up despite a level number of US troops, the report attributes a large portion of the increased spending to the military's ongoing preparations to sustain combat operations in the two countries for the foreseeable future.

For example, the report shows that under the category of "procurement," the funds designated for "resetting the force" - replacing or repairing equipment damaged in combat and preparing for long-term fighting - has jumped from $7.2 billion in 2004 to $20.9 billion in 2005, and $22.9 billion this year. Separately, the Army has told Congress that it estimates it will need at least $36 billion more for equipment, while the Marine Corps has reported it needs nearly $12 billion.

Another major war cost is for infrastructure - bases, landing strips, repair shops - for the forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. These "operations and maintenance" costs remained steady at about $40 billion per year in 2003, 2004, and 2005, but have spiked to more than $60 billion this year.

Those factors alone, however, are "not enough to explain" the spiraling increase in operating costs, according to the report.

"You would expect [operating costs] to level off if you have the same level of people," said the report's principal author, Amy Belasco, a national defense specialist at the Congressional Research Service. "You shouldn't have as much cost to fix buildings that were presumably repaired when you got there. It's a bit mysterious."

The Pentagon has not provided Congress with a detailed accounting of all the war funds, making it impossible to conduct a full, independent estimate of how much Americans are spending in Iraq and Afghanistan - or to predict what future costs might be.

"In congressional hearings, the Department of Defense has typically provided estimates of the current or average monthly costs over a period of time for military operations, referred to as the `burn rate,'" the report stated. "While this figure covers some of the costs of war, it excludes the cost of upgrading or replacing military equipment and improving or building facilities overseas, and it does not cover all funds appropriated."

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