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The rising tab for US war effort

Spending may increase by 25 percent next year, which could push total costs for Iraq and Afghanistan to over $200 billion.

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The grinding insurgency in Iraq continues to exert upward pressure on at least one important aspect of the US war effort: monetary cost.

Deployment of extra troops, plus the need for new armor and other changes to counter insurgent tactics, may increase war spending by at least 25 percent for fiscal 2005, say experts. The total cost of the US military effort in Afghanistan and Iraq through next year will almost certainly surpass $200 billion.

Congress is likely to approve whatever war budget the White House asks for. But the current rate of spending is far higher than officials predicted before hostilities began - and at some point it may begin to crowd out other US spending priorities.

"Eventually these costs, explicitly or implicitly ... may cut into the rest of the defense budget," says Steven Kosiak, director of budget studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington.

Earlier this year most congressional and administration estimates of fiscal 2005 war costs hovered in the $60 to $70 billion range.

Now that figure has climbed higher. The White House plans to ask for upwards of $80 billion in supplemental appropriations funding for 2005 operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Congressional Budget Office director J. Douglas Holtz-Eakin.

That's on top of the $25 billion for end of fiscal 2004 and beginning of 2005 that Congress has already approved as part of the general military appropriations bill.

The need to push troop levels to 150,000, highest of the war, in advance of scheduled elections is one reason costs are going up, CBO chief Holtz-Eakin told the trade journal Congressional Quarterly. The difficulties of keeping equipment running in the desert may be another.

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