|Syria attack could cost U.S. billions of dollars: report||
As U.S. Congress and the public weigh the merits of a strike on Syria, two questions permeate the debate: At what cost? And where would the money come from?
It remains unclear where the money for the operations in Syria would come from — and whether the funds would be taken out of the military’s base budget, as was the case with Libya, or from a special supplemental appropriation.
Pressed on the issue by reporters on Thursday, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little declined to offer any details about the potential costs, saying: “When something is that important, we’ll find a way to pay for it,” NBC News reported.
The cost question is troubling some lawmakers and the Obama administration seems to be acutely aware that cost concerns could undermine support for an attack. Kerry was asked skeptically on Tuesday, "Is the Congress of the United States ready to pay for 30 days of 30,000 air strikes to take out (Bashar Assad's government)?" Kerry implied: No, Congress wouldn't be willing to pay for such a large operation.
Rep. Ileana Ros Lehtinen, R- Fla., said at recent House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, "Even a limited engagement -- if it ends up being only limited -- could potentially cost taxpayers billions.
Recent congressional testimony by Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and previous estimates by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey create some doubt about what the operation could cost and even about who might pay for it.
Responding to a question from Rep. Tom Marino, R- Pa. on the cost of the operation, Hagel said, "it would be in the tens of millions of dollars – that kind of range," an estimate that contrasted sharply with one provided by Dempsey in a July 19 letter to Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D- Mich. Dempsey at that time said "limited stand-off strikes" designed to achieve "the significant degradation of regime capabilities" would require "hundreds of aircraft, ships, submarines, and other enablers." Dempsey told Levin, "Depending on duration, the costs would be in the billions" of dollars.
Hagel told lawmakers he’ll “work with the Congress on whatever cost that is.”
Once the attack begins, the cost "depends on what weapons platforms we use. Standoff strikes using Tomahawk cruise missiles, for example, would cost more" than air strikes by U.S. aircraft, said Todd Harrison, a defense budget analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington think tank. "These missiles cost roughly $1.5 million each, and we typically use multiple missiles per target because they only carry a 1,000 pound warhead."
Harrison added that "GPS-guided bombs dropped from a stealthy aircraft like the B-2 bomber, would cost less to employ. The bombs themselves cost roughly $50,000 each, plus you have to add the cost of flying B-2s from Missouri (where they are based) to Syria and back."
Harrison said, "limited airstrikes over the course of a few days would likely cost somewhere on the order of $500,000 to $1 billion. If the objective widens to include a no-fly zone, severely degrading Syria's military capabilities, and providing tactical support to rebels, the costs would go up."
The biggest cost would be buying replacements for the bomb and missile inventories "in the future, not this year or using existing funds," he said.
Dov Zakheim, a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who served as undersecretary of defense and Pentagon comptroller during the Bush administration, figures that the cost of an operation would be higher than Harrison or Bell estimate. Zakheim opposes the Syrian attack on policy grounds.
"If you look at Libya, we spent something north of $1.5 billion. In that case we were 'leading from behind.' Here we would be leading in front," Zakheim said. "So when the chairman of Joint Chiefs talks about billions of dollars, he's probably talking closer to $5 billion, and maybe more, just depending on how long you go on, how may targets you go after and how many times you have to go after the same targets."
He said, "These things don't just run two weeks, three weeks, four weeks. You have to deal with a lot of targets, you have to deal with the fact that the Syrians are likely to move things."
Meanwhile, many hawkish Republicans, traditionally supportive of military might, are balking at the prospect of authorizing force against the government of Assad amid sequestration and other spending cuts that have forced the Pentagon to scale back training, furlough civilian employees and defer ship maintenance.
“Our military has no money left,” complained Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
On Capitol Hill, the issue has become a flashpoint for defense advocates, worried operations in Syria could exacerbate the military’s fiscal woes.
“Does [the president] try to fund the missile strikes out of the hide of current DoD spending?” one House Republican aide asked in an interview with Politico. “If that’s the plan, good luck getting defense hawks on board. There was fat to cut to fund Libya, but that doesn’t exist anymore.”
Rep. Mike Turner, who chairs the House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee, has already pledged to oppose any request for additional funding for operations in Syria “until the president acts to remove the burden of sequestration from our military.”
“At this point, [White House officials have] been publicly stating they intend to use existing funds [to pay for an attack], which complicates the issue of sequestration that much more,” the Ohio Republican said.
Todd Harrison, a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said the cost of an attack could range from “as little as a few million” to “upwards of a billion dollars,” depending on the size and scope.
“A full scale invasion and occupation could cost on the order of what Iraq cost,” Harrison said. “But no one in their right mind is considering that.”
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|Last Updated on 07 September 2013 17:22|