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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

MIKE PESCA, host:

And I'm Mike Pesca.

Coming up, we'll hear what critics inside Israel are saying about their country's army in the wake of this summer's war with Hezbollah.

BRAND: First, check out this statistic. Two billion dollars a week. That's what the Iraq War is costing. That's up 20 percent from last year. The figures are in a report put out by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service.

Winslow Wheeler, a national security expert at the Center for Defense Information, joins me now to analyze that number.

Hi.

Mr. WINSLOW WHEELER (Center for Defense Information): Hi. Nice to be with you.

BRAND: Well, that is a big number, $2 billion a week. Is it a big number in context?

Mr. WHEELER: Sure. Even in Washington, $2 billion is a large number, and that's not everything. Iraq is about 75 percent of all wars' cost. You need to include also Afghanistan and something called Operation Noble Eagle, which is facility security here in the U.S. and those F-15s and F-16s flying air cover sometimes still in the U.S.

BRAND: Well, where is this money going primarily - and primarily it's going to the Iraq War, but for what in Iraq?

Mr. WHEELER: Almost all of it is DOD money. It goes for all kinds of things, but basically military operations. Everything from gasoline and MRE food to repairing damaged striker armored vehicles to air strikes from A-10s. It's the whole cost of the war as far as we can tell, although there's a lot of uncertainty about that.

BRAND: What do you mean, uncertainty?

Mr. WHEELER: Well, there's some problems. The Congressional Research Service's excellent work notwithstanding, it's not clear just what we've been spending on the wars. CRS has one estimate. The Government Accountability office has a different estimate. The Congressional Budget Office has a still different estimate, and the Defense Department has a different estimate. The band of uncertainty is about $20 billion for the approximate $500 billion we've appropriated so far.

The Congressional committees that handle this money, the Appropriations Committee in the House and Senate, apparently cannot determine with any accuracy how much they have actually appropriated. And the Defense Department, amazingly enough, cannot tell you how much it's spent.

BRAND: Because it doesn't know?

Mr. WHEELER: Because it doesn't track the money. As we've heard from the Government Accountability Office and the Defense Department Inspector General for literally decades, the Defense Department cannot pass an audit. It cannot even take an audit. And they do not keep accurate records on what happens to the money.

BRAND: Well, where is the Congressional outrage? Where are the Congresspeople saying, You know what, until we get an accurate accounting, we're not giving you any more money?

Mr. WHEELER: Congress has hearings about this every year. They throw up their hands in horror. And they proceed to do absolutely nothing about it. They hold nobody accountable for it and they schedule next year's hearings and they'll say the same things.

BRAND: There has not been an increase in troop levels in Iraq, and yet, according to this report, operations are costing 20 percent more this year than last. Why?

Mr. WHEELER: Well, actually we're going to see an increase in troop levels in the next month or so. But it's a function of whatever happens to be incurring costs, and the thing that's driving some of this increase is what's called reset.

Our equipment is extremely complex, in addition to being expensive, and it's not a straight line function of the more you use it, the more the repair costs are. The more you use it, the repair costs go up in almost a geometric function.

We are way behind on refurbishing and replacing worn out equipment. The current bill just for this year is $17 billion just for the Army, probably another $5 billion for the Marine Corps. The Army projects another $13 billion next year. That might a modest estimate. Those costs have been going up each year.

BRAND: Winslow Wheeler is a national security expert at the Center for Defense Information.

Thanks for joining us.

Mr. WHEELER: It's a real pleasure.

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