Financial Times, April 22, 2004
Senior Pentagon officials on Wednesday said the war in Iraq was costing $4.7 billion per month, a price tag they said could rise with US troop levels higher than planned and combat intensifying.
General Richard Myers, the US's top uniformed commander, told a congressional hearing the decision to keep an extra 20,000 soldiers in Iraq through the summer would probably cost an extra $700 million over the next three months.
"The increased operation tempo [and] keeping 20,000 an additional tour in Iraq is going to cost us more money," Gen Myers said. Although the rise in US troop numbers -- from 115,000 to 135,000 -- is only authorised through June, Gen Myers hinted those levels could be retained for several more months, since US forces will need to fill in for departing Spanish troops, who had commanded the international division in south-central Iraq.
Gen Myers said the increased spending meant the Pentagon was facing a $4 billion shortfall in war funding, but added officials were working on budgeting -- possibly deferring acquisition programmes that are not essential -- to ensure adequate cash through to the end of the fiscal year, which finishes on September 30.
The new estimates make it more likely that the White House may have to return to Congress for an emergency war spending bill before the November elections. Administration officials had hoped to wait until January to seek another Iraq appropriation, and Scott McClellan, White House spokesman, insisted on Wednesday that "current funding levels are more than adequate at this time".
But senior members of Congress, including some Republicans, urged the administration to detail war costs before the election, arguing it appeared that the military was running out of funds. "You're going to have to help us or we're going to take action on our own," said Curt Weldon, a senior Republican on the House Armed Services committee.
Joshua Bolten, the White House budget director, said in February that the administration would need no more than $50 billion to pay for Iraq operations in 2005, but Senator Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, said on Wednesday he expected the figure to be as much as $75 billion.
Since the war began last April, Congress has appropriated $150 billion in emergency spending for conflict-related costs, including the $87 billion approved in October. Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defence secretary, said the Pentagon was conducting a mid-year review of war spending and did not yet have an estimate of how much of the appropriation had been spent. He added, however, that some war-related accounts had been underspent.
Gen Myers said wear and tear on weaponry and transport -- particularly helicopters -- was also contributing to higher costs. In addition, the intensity of recent fighting had forced the Pentagon to consider whether it had sent enough heavy armour with new forces arriving in Iraq.
The 1st cavalry division, which has taken over security operations in Baghdad, was deployed with fewer tanks and armoured personnel carriers than the division it is replacing, but Gen Myers said that decision was being reviewed.