Military Operations in Iraq Cost Nearly $4 Billion a Month

By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 10, 2003; Page A24

The Pentagon is spending nearly $4 billion a month in Iraq, a "burn rate" that is likely to continue far longer than the Bush administration intended due to ongoing attacks on U.S. forces, according to private and government cost projections.

Pentagon officials have avoided divulging the size of the force they anticipated for Iraqi occupation and reconstruction, but a Defense Department report sent to Congress last week conceded that demobilization has not been as rapid as planned. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the monthly cost of operations in Iraq is roughly $3.9 billion.

The military has already had to shift about $3.6 billion from an Iraq contingency fund and other military accounts to cover unanticipated costs, according to the report. And the current force in Iraq -- about 150,000 troops -- will likely remain in the region into the next fiscal year, which begins in October, the report said. Before the war, Defense Department officials hinted that the peacekeeping force would be 40,000 to 60,000 troops.

"The presumption was always that the burn rate would decline rapidly," said Loren B. Thompson, a defense analyst at the conservative Lexington Institute. "It's pretty obvious now that the peacekeeping function substantially exceeds what was anticipated."

Pentagon officials and defense analysts in Congress say the $62.6 billion emergency spending bill that Congress passed just after the war began should cover war costs through the end of this fiscal year. But the messy aftermath -- with its guerrilla-like attacks, looting and sluggish rebuilding efforts -- threatens to drain the Treasury well into next year and beyond.

The $3.9 billion monthly spending rate is nearly double the rate anticipated for longer-term peacekeeping operations, a House Appropriations Committee aide said. Indeed, signs of strain are already beginning to show, according to Defense Department documents.

In its most detailed assessment of the cost of the war, the Pentagon said it has already incurred $900 million in unanticipated personnel costs and about $4.1 billion in weapons depot maintenance costs that are "beyond the scope of the . . . programs to absorb." An additional $612 million in family separation allowances and imminent danger pay demanded by Congress will also have to be covered by shifting funds from other accounts.

The military hopes to spend $232 million to replace Air Force transport equipment, $217 million to buy new Tomahawk cruise missiles, $638 million on munitions, $389 million to convert Chinook helicopters for special operations, and $109 million to upgrade Army combat missile systems. And those are only the preliminary assessments of equipment loss, the report cautioned.

The House this week approved a $369 billion defense spending bill that includes no money for military operations in Iraq, a move that "is very hard to understand or explain," said Thomas Kahn, the Democratic staff director of the House Budget Committee.

Defense Department officials remained sanguine about the long-term issues. The report to Congress continued to predict that "only a limited number of U.S. forces will remain" in Iraq by fall 2004.

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