8:21 am - Wednesday November 4, 2015

Pentagon says Iraq operations have cost $560 million so far

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APTOPIX Mideast US Iraq

WASHINGTON: The Pentagon said Friday that military operations in Iraq have cost more than $560 million so far, including the surveillance flights and airstrikes that began on June 16.

Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said the average daily cost for the operations has been $7.5 million, with the cost starting lower when the humanitarian aid flights began and increasing as the military strikes escalated.

To date the military has conducted about 106 airstrikes against ISIS militants who have stormed across Iraq, taking control of a large swath of the west and north.

Kirby says the costs are being paid for through the 2014 overseas contingency fund and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said he has adequate funds for the operation through this fiscal year.

A big escalation in U.S. military activity against ISIS militants could force the Pentagon to seek more money from Congress as policymakers draft next year’s budget, though it should be able to pay for the current pace of operations from existing funds.

Prior to Friday’s announcement, a military officials said the U.S. operation in Iraq had so far included relief drops of 636 bundles of food, water and medical supplies, at least 102 airstrikes and about 60 reconnaissance aircraft sorties per day. In addition, more than 800 troops have been sent to Iraq to evaluate the situation.

Todd Harrison, a defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments think tank, said that to put the current expenditures in context, “DoD [the Defense Department] was already planning to spend more than $800 million in Iraq in 2014 for security cooperation and other activities not related to the current situation.”

“DoD is spending roughly $1.3 billion per week on Afghanistan,” he added, “so the bill for Iraq is tiny in comparison.”

Mackenzie Eaglen, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, noted the U.S. military intervention in Libya in 2011 was more intensive, including policing a no-fly zone and carrying out more strike sorties over a longer period of time.

The Pentagon estimated its costs for the seven-month operation at about $1 billion, she said.

Harrison noted the department’s 2015 budget request, which is still being considered by Congress, includes $5 billion as part of a counterterrorism partnership fund.

“It seems like battling ISIS is exactly the kind of thing that fund should be used to support, so I don’t see why they would need more funding than already requested,” he said.

Eaglen said any Pentagon request for additional funds would likely be the result of an expansion of U.S. military involvement.

Harrison said the costs in Iraq would ramp up significantly if Obama were to decide to put more troops on the ground, a move the president has indicated he wants to avoid.

“Our previous experience in Iraq suggests that the cost to support each increment of 1,000 troops will be about $600 million per year,” Harrison said. “So if we were to deploy 10,000 troops, for example, it would cost around $6 billion per year to support them.”

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