Iraq war now costing $6 billion a month
By Lolita C. Baldor
-- -- WASHINGTON — The Bush administration is spending about $7 billion a month to wage the war on terror, and costs could total $570 billion by the end of 2010, assuming troops are gradually brought home, a congressional report estimates.
The paper by the Congressional Research Service underscores how the price tag has been gradually rising for the war in Iraq. A year ago, the Pentagon was calculating its average monthly costs in that conflict at below $5 billion — an amount the research service says has now grown close to $6 billion.
Those expenses are growing even as recovery costs from hurricanes Katrina and Rita and mammoth federal deficits are intensifying pressure on the Bush administration and Congress to find ways to save money.
A separate study by the Congressional Budget Office found it will be difficult for the Pentagon to sustain current troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan without rotating troops into the war zone more frequently and using more National Guard brigades. And even those steps will not be adequate long-term solutions.
The budget office study echoed earlier reports suggesting that if current combat demands continue, the Army will have serious problems keeping enough soldiers trained and ready.
Both studies add more fodder to the increasing congressional and public unease about the Iraq war, even as President Bush and members of his administration this week stepped up their defense of the war on terror.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the administration has allocated about $361 billion for military operations, reconstruction and other programs in Iraq and Afghanistan, including $50 billion for 2006 in legislation working its way through Congress. the Congressional Research Service report said. The service is one of Congress' investigative arms.
CRS also identified gaps in the Pentagon's accounting of war costs, including up to $14 billion in funds that may have been transferred from peacetime accounts. It recommended that Congress require more detailed reporting from the Defense Department on how the money is spent.
The CRS report said the latest average monthly cost for Iraq is $5.9 billion, or 19 percent higher than last year.
The average monthly cost for operations in Afghanistan is $1 billion, or 8 percent lower than last year, and the costs of securing U.S. military bases worldwide averages $170 million a month, which is 47 percent lower than last year.
In projecting costs out through 2010, CRS said it assumed U.S. troops would remain in the region but drop gradually throughout the period. Some funding would be needed to continue training Iraqi and Afghan security forces and to replace lost equipment.
The research service said the Pentagon will have to either increase the size of the Army, shift people from other missions, or further increase the pace of the troop rotations.
But even if the Pentagon can reverse recruitment shortfalls and begin meeting its goals, CBO said it will take a decade and about $140 billion to increase the Army by four or five divisions — or about 115,000 active duty soldiers and about 42,000 reserves.
There are now 10 active duty Army divisions. The equivalent of about five Army divisions are serving in Iraq.
The total force in Iraq, including Marines and Reserves, is about 149,000, according to the Pentagon. But CBO said a more accurate number is between 160,000 and 180,000, because troops in other locations are supporting the war.
On the Net:
Congressional Budget Office: http://www.cbo.gov
Congressional Research Service: http://www.crs.gov
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