CBO projects long-term troop presence in Iraq could be costly

Administration takes exception to the report, noting that the situation is constantly evolving.

The Congressional Budget Office released estimates Thursday showing that the cost of a long-term United States troop presence in Iraq, similar to the U.S. commitment in South Korea, could reach $2 trillion or more in 2008 dollars.

That figure could decrease significantly if the pace of combat operations slows over the years. Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., requested the report after recent comments by President Bush comparing the situation in Iraq to the post-Korean War U.S. presence, suggesting American troops could be in Iraq for decades.

"Now the president is considering a significant ongoing presence in Iraq, long after he leaves office. Yet, he gives no indication of the cost or how it should be paid for, except to throw it all on the charge card and continue to run up the nation's debt," Conrad said in a statement.

In August, CBO reported that the cost of maintaining 75,000 troops in Iraq could total $1 trillion from 2009 to 2017. Assuming a drawdown after 2017 to about 55,000 troops, roughly the equivalent of the U.S. presence in South Korea, CBO drew up two scenarios: one, in which troops conduct combat operations at roughly the same pace as they do today, and one in which the intensity of combat drops over time to levels now seen in South Korea.

Under the first scenario, costs could reach $25 billion to $30 billion a year, or well over $1 trillion over 50 years beyond 2017. Non-combat costs would be much lower, $10 billion or less annually, CBO said.

Office of Management and Budget spokesman Sean Kevelighan took exception to the report, arguing "we cannot speculate on nonexistent strategies" and that the situation is constantly evolving. "CBO must be pretty smart if it has the insight to know what to assume about Iraq war costs 50 years in the future," he said.

Under both scenarios, the roughly 55,000 personnel in Iraq would include four heavy combat brigade teams, a division headquarters, six tactical fighter squadrons, 10,000 trainers for the Iraqi army and police forces, and associated support units.

The combat scenario assumes "the pace and types of operations would be similar to but on a smaller scale than those that U.S. forces are now conducting," and would total $21 billion for day-to-day operational costs, $3 billion for personnel, $300 million to maintain temporary facilities like those used in Bosnia, and about $1 billion annually to replace worn and damaged equipment for a total of $25 billion a year. That could rise to $30 billion or more if initial procurement costs remain comparable to recent years.

In the non-combat scenario, units would be stationed indefinitely but "the intensity of operations and conflict in Iraq would decline . . . to a zero or near-zero level of combat." Ground and air units would be based in Iraq or neighboring countries, and would require permanent facilities, to be constructed at a one-time cost of about $8 billion and about $200 million annually to maintain.

Operations and maintenance costs could cost up to $9 billion a year, although that could decline substantially if Iraq's civilian infrastructure and economy develop over time. For example the incremental cost of stationing troops in South Korea is less than $1 billion annually, CBO said.

Personnel costs would be lower than in the combat scenario, about $1 billion a year, because the deployment would be less-reliant on reserve components, which are significantly higher to maintain.