Defense Secretary Robert Gates estimates the Pentagon will need another $69.7 billion this year for wars. (Photo: Getty Images)
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has sent a $69.7 billion war cost "estimate" to congressional leaders and said that the outgoing administration will not formally request more war funding before President-elect Barack Obama takes office.
The money would cover military operations related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with activities to battle terrorism around the world, for the remainder of fiscal 2009, which ends Sept. 30. It is not an official request for funding and is subject to change pending new strategic and budgetary decisions by the incoming administration.
"This estimate is my personal assessment and does not reflect the position of the Bush administration or the incoming Obama administration," Gates wrote in a Dec. 31 letter to the chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services committees and Appropriations Defense subcommittees. "As such, I fully expect that the new administration will conduct a fresh review of these matters and provide an updated and more authoritative proposal early next year."
A proposed plan to increase U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan is still under consideration and therefore not included in the estimate, Gates wrote.
The total estimate is $12 billion less than the funding estimate originally developed by Gates and communicated to leading defense appropriators in December. If enacted without changes, it would bring total supplemental war spending for fiscal 2009 to about $136 billion.
Congress provided $65.9 billion in fiscal 2009 war funding in the last supplemental bill (PL 110-252). Fiscal 2008 supplemental war spending totaled about $188 billion, according to the Congressional Research Service.
The lack of a formal war funding estimate lessens the likelihood such funding could be included in this month's economic stimulus legislation, although congressional aides said that other defense-related spending is being considered for that package.
Current war funding will last until June, giving the new administration some time to review and alter the estimate before submitting a formal request.
Money for Current Operations
The bulk of the funds, $53.5 billion, would go towards current operations, including military pay, training and transportation costs.
Within that total, $3.6 billion would go for military intelligence activities, $1.5 billion to counter roadside bombs, and $1.3 billion for military construction projects at home and abroad.
The estimate also would provide for international assistance, calling for $2.3 billion to train the Afghan Security Forces and $1.3 billion to equip them. About $1.4 billion would go to reimburse coalition countries such as Pakistan and Jordan for their military expenditures, and $400 million would be designated to build up Pakistani capabilities.
Gates' estimate also calls for $7.5 billion to replace and repair military equipment such as aircraft and ground vehicles, as well as $600 million to procure four F-22 Raptor fighters.
Another $2 billion would be used to speed up Army and Marines Corps plans to expand ground forces. Veterans' health and family support programs would receive $1.7 billion more.
Appropriations panel leaders did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the new estimate, but House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee Chairman John P. Murtha, D-Pa., has said his panel already is working on a fiscal 2009 supplemental war spending bill.
Lawmakers plan to add money to give a $500 per month salary bonus to all 185,000 soldiers who have been held past their deployment commitments since 2001 in the Army's "stop loss" program. They also will add unspecified funds to improve bases and housing for military members and their families at home, Murtha said.
Nevertheless, Murtha criticized the continued use of supplemental bills to provide war funding. Supplementals have provided most of the $864 billion in war funding since Sept. 11, 2001, according to the Congressional Research Service.
"The supplementals have got to go. We cannot have a sensible appropriations [process] if we don't get rid of the supplementals," Murtha told an audience at the Center for American Progress Dec. 10.
Early next year, Congress will receive a new baseline defense budget request for fiscal 2010, which will receive increased scrutiny due to the ongoing fiscal crisis.
An internally prepared document by the Joint Chiefs of Staff pegs the fiscal 2010 defense budget at $584 billion, an increase of about $57 billion over previous Bush administration proposals.