Iraq 'Surge' Costs Underestimated, CBO Says
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
The Bush administration will ask Congress for $100 billion in additional funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan this year. And the request for 2008 will be even higher. Part of this year's budget request will go toward more troops in Iraq. The president has ordered an increase of some 21,000 soldiers to help stabilize Baghdad and other areas.
Congressional budget experts say that troop number could double, as NPR's Jackie Northam reports.
JACKIE NORTHAM: President Bush's announcement that he's ordering 21,000 more troops into Iraq has a elicited mixed reaction among members of Congress. Some believe a so-called surge would alleviate the violence in Iraq. Others say the decision delays the date Iraqis have to take responsibility for their country.
For Ike Skelton, a Missouri Democrat and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, there was another concern - what's it really going to cost?
Representative IKE SKELTON (Democrat, Missouri): We all know that whenever you send ground troops, you need support personnel, support troops. And the question is if you have 21,500 more ground troops, how many support personnel will you have? Consequently, it's going to cost a lot more.
NORTHAM: Skelton and several other Democratic congressmen asked the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, or CBO, to estimate the total cost of the president's plan to find out how many support troops would be needed to provide communications, intelligence, food and the like. The CBO estimates that number at 28,000. That would be more than double the number of troops President Bush called for.
Retired Army Lieutenant General Ted Stroup, now the vice president of the Association of the United States Army, says the CBO came to that estimate by using the current ratio of combat to support troops.
Lieutenant General TED STROUP (Retired, U.S. Army): Generally, if you have about 4,000 combat troops that are on the ground, you're generally going to have between 5,000 and 6,000 support troops spread back across the lines taking care of those fighting troops. That's sort of a good rule of thumb.
NORTHAM: The CBO worked out another scenario, cutting the number of support personnel by about half. That would still mean about 15,000 support troops in addition to the 21,000 the president is calling for.
Today, Defense Secretary Robert Gates disputed the CBO's findings, saying that the numbers were dramatically overstated and out of synch with the Pentagon's estimate.
Mr. ROBERT GATES (Secretary of Defense): We think that number - it's not settled for sure right now - but that number looks right now like it will be about 10 to 15 per cent of the number that CBO cited.
NORTHAM: Retired General Stroup won't speculate as to why there's such a huge discrepancy between the Defense Department and the Congressional Budget Office numbers. Stroup says the CBO numbers look about right to him, and he worries that the Pentagon estimates may be too low.
Lieutenant General STROUP: It may mean that there would not be the capability to provide adequate support. Or it may mean that your support troops that are there will have to work a lot harder.
NORTHAM: Either way, it's going to cost more than President Bush said it would, according to the CBO report. If the full compliment of support troops in the CBO estimate is sent over, it will cost up to $27 billion for a year's deployment. That's nearly four times as much as the seven billion the president said the surge would cost. Again, Secretary Gates disputed the CBO's findings.
Mr. GATES: Our cost estimate for the surge is through September of this year, through the end of FY '07. The CBO number goes out to the end of FY '09.
NORTHAM: But the CBO also did a four month review, estimating that it would cost nine to $13 billion, not seven billion dollars, just for that time frame. It's a lot of math, but Representative Ike Skelton says the numbers speak for themselves.
Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.
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