How Much Will Escalation Cost?
The L.A. Times has a fascinating article about the difficulties in accounting for estimated costs in a troop surge in Afghanistan.
The calculations so far have produced a sweeping range. The Pentagon publicly estimates it will cost $500,000 a year for every additional service member sent to the war zone. Obama’s budget experts size it up at twice that much.
The Office of Management and Budget says adding 40,000 troops would cost about $40 billion a year, or $1 million each. White House officials included in their estimate everything they consider necessary to wage war, including troop housing and equipment.
The Pentagon arrived at its much lower estimate by dividing its war funding request by the number of troops throughout the region: 68,000 in Afghanistan and up to 95,000 in supporting roles elsewhere, such as on nearby ships or in surrounding countries.
The Pentagon cost includes higher combat wages, extra aircraft hours and other operations and maintenance costs, but omits such items as new weapons purchases — one-time costs that vary by year — and support equipment like spy satellites and anti-roadside-bomb technology.
The Pentagon also does not try to estimate costs of new bases for additional soldiers.
But in a memo early this month, obtained by The Times’ Washington bureau, the Pentagon’s own comptroller produced an estimate that broke with the customary Defense formula and did include construction and equipment.
That memo said the yearly cost of a 40,000-troop increase would be $30 billion to $35 billion — at least $750,000 a person. An increase of 20,000 would cost $20 billion to $25 billion annually, it said — a per-soldier cost equal to or greater than the White House estimate.
Keep in mind that these are per year figures, and most discussiosn of troop escalations involve deployments for longer than that–possibly much longer.
As for which figures to go with, I have to say that I’m going to be inclined to go with the OMB on this. Indeed, I’d be perfectly willing to bet that the OMB is underestimating the costs, and the Pentagon almost definitely is. The appropriations required for combat have, in my experience, often exceeded the initial estimates. After all, who can forget this famous estimate?
Q: Mr. Secretary, on Iraq, how much money do you think the Department of Defense would need to pay for a war with Iraq?
Rumsfeld: Well, the Office of Management and Budget, has come up come up with a number that’s something under $50 billion for the cost. How much of that would be the U.S. burden, and how much would be other countries, is an open question. I think the way to put it into perspective is that the estimates as to what September 11th cost the United States of America ranges high up into the hundreds of billions of dollars. Now, another event in the United States that was like September 11th, and which cost thousands of lives, but one that involved a — for example, a biological weapon, would be — have a cost in human life, as well as in billions, hundreds of billions of dollars, that would be vastly greater.
As a refresher:
The cost of the Iraq War to date: over $700 billion.
The number of biological weapons that were found in Iraq: zero.