By Drew Brown
WASHINGTON - The total cost of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and enhanced security at military bases since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks could reach $549 billion this year, a new report to Congress concludes.
The projection by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service is based on an update in July from the White House Office of Management and Budget, which estimated that war costs will total $110 billion for fiscal year 2007, which begins Sunday.
In fiscal year 2005, the Pentagon spent an average of $6.4 billion a month in Iraq and $1.3 billion a month in Afghanistan. During fiscal year 2006, it's projected that those costs will have increased to about $8 billion a month in Iraq and $1.5 billion per month in Afghanistan.
"Everybody expects that troops will come home and that next year will be cheaper, but it just never happens that way," said Winslow Wheeler, the director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information, a policy-research group in Washington.
The report says war costs are expected to continue to grow in the next decade.
Even if U.S. forces were reduced from 258,000 today in Iraq, Afghanistan and other military operations around the globe related to the war on terrorism to 74,000 by 2010, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that war costs would still grow by $371 billion from fiscal year 2007 to fiscal year 2016.
Given the amount already spent, total war funding could reach $808 billion by 2016, according to the Congressional Research Service report to Congress.
But the true figure may prove to be higher, if current trends hold. The Pentagon had hoped to reduce its troop presence in Iraq to fewer than 100,000 by the end of this year, but military commanders are planning to keep at least 140,000 troops there through the spring because of the high level of violence.
Congress has appropriated about $437 billion so far for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other anti-terrorism efforts around the world, according to the Congressional Research Service.
This includes money for military operations, base security, reconstruction, foreign aid, embassy costs and veterans' health programs related to the war. Another $2 billion is in fiscal 2007 spending bills for foreign aid and diplomatic operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and veterans' medical programs, the agency reported.
The House approved a record $448 billion in defense spending for 2007 late Tuesday, including $70 billion as a down payment, or bridge fund, for military operations during the next fiscal year. Final passage by the Senate could come Thursday.
The White House expects to ask for at least $50 billion in bridge funding to pay for the war in fiscal year 2008, according to the Congressional Research Service.
The Pentagon hasn't provided Congress with the individual costs of each operation. However, the agency report estimated that Iraq accounts for about 75 percent of all war spending and Afghanistan accounts for 20 percent. Increased base security takes the remaining 5 percent.
Operating, maintenance and procurement costs account for the biggest increases in spending from 2003 to 2006, according to the agency.
Total operating and maintenance costs reached almost $200 billion by fiscal 2006, primarily because of purchases of more body armor, the jump in oil prices, increasing bills to repair aging equipment and money to train Afghan and Iraqi security forces.
The amount spent on replacement weapons and equipment reached almost $61 billion during the same period.
Congress is allocating $23 billion this year to replace worn-out or damaged military equipment. Most of that is going to the Army. Wheeler said the expense could be even higher, and that these costs were likely to climb each year that the war continued.