Saturday, February 03, 2007

Report Says Bush Downplays Costs of Troop Increase

By Thomas D. Williams
t r u t h o u t | Report

Friday 02 February 2007

President George W. Bush's repeated statements of the need for 21,500 more combat troops in Iraq to quell the violence in Baghdad and in Anbar Province don't begin to give the full picture, a new Congressional Budget Office report reveals.

The startling report, issued Thursday by Budget Office Director Peter R. Orszag, said ordinarily another 27,500 troops would be necessary to support the additional 21,500 combat forces Bush featured in his talks to the nation. The budget office estimates range from 15,000 to 28,000 support troops that will be needed to back up the 21,500 mentioned by the administration.

"Army and DOD officials have indicated that it will be both possible and desirable to deploy fewer additional support units than historical practice would indicate," the budget report says. "[The office] expects that, even if the additional brigades required fewer support units than historical practice suggests, those units would still represent a significant additional number of military personnel."

But, at a news briefing Friday morning, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates insisted the budget report highly exaggerates both the numbers of support troops needed and their costs. "The [budget office] study, I think, dramatically overstates both the cost and the personnel." He explained that Defense Department cost estimates for the surge are through September or through the end of fiscal year 2007, while the budget office estimate extends through fiscal year 2009.

However, the Thursday letter from Budget Director Orszag gave varying scenarios of time for the recently ordered 21,500 troop deployment, including periods from four months to twelve months. The office covered a wide variety of possibilities and made cost estimates for all of them. It supplied a chart that covered various time frames, short of and up to the year 2009.

"And you may recall," said Gates, "that when I was asked, in the Senate Armed Services Committee, how long I thought the surge would last, I said that I thought that while there was no precise number by any means, that I thought those of us involved in the process thought of it in terms of months, rather than 18 months or two years." Gates went on to explain that he believes right now that the support forces needed will only be about 10 to 15 percent of the number that the budget office cited.

"What the president focused on was what we needed to make the Baghdad security plan work, which was additional Iraqi brigades and additional American brigades," said Stephen Hadley, assistant to the president for national security affairs. "And so, if you looked at his speech, what he talks about is, five brigades into Iraq and a 4,000 increase - net increase in the forces in Al Anbar to deal with Al Qaeda. You run the numbers on, it gets you somewhere north of 20,000. He was focusing on the combat element.... I've not seen the Congressional Budget Office study. I know DOD is looking at it. I don't know the assumptions."

But, leading Democrats in Congress have disagreed with Gates, while supporting the budget office's figures. "[This] puts the cost of the president's decision in even starker terms," said Nancy Peolosi, (D-Calif.), speaker of the US House of Representatives, Thursday. "If the president proceeds with his plan, thousands more US troops will be at risk, billions more dollars will be required, and there will be a much more severe impact on our military's readiness."

"Thus far," says the Congressional Budget Office, "the Department of Defense (DOD) has identified only combat units for deployment. However, US military operations also require substantial support forces, including personnel to staff headquarters, serve as military police, and provide communications, contracting, engineering, intelligence, medical, and other services. Over the past few years, DOD's practice has been to deploy a total of about 9,500 personnel per combat brigade to the Iraq theater, including about 4,000 combat troops and about 5,500 supporting troops. DOD has not yet indicated which support units will be deployed along with the added combat forces, or how many additional troops will be involved."

Democrats, backed by some Republicans, in Congress are working on bills that would diametrically oppose Bush's proposal to surge new troops into Baghdad and Anbar Province. One nonbinding Senate resolution would say the US commitment in Iraq "can only be sustained" with popular support among the American public and in Congress. In the meantime, House Republican leaders support a bill protecting funding for US troops, while Senate Republicans have a resolution supportive of Mr. Bush's strategy.

"Because the president's advisers have indicated that they will pay for the troop increase from funds already provided to the Department of Defense, we were concerned that the full financial cost of the escalation would never be made clear to the American people," said House Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton, (D-Mo.). "We strongly believe that Congress cannot provide good oversight to the president's troop escalation plan without first understanding the costs."

House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (D-S.C.), who called for the budget report, said: "These additional troop deployments will cost between $7 billion and $10 billion this year alone - $4 billion to $7 billion more than the administration's estimate."

Thomas "Dennie" Williams is a former state and federal court reporter, specializing in investigations, for the Hartford Courant. Since the 1970s, he has written extensively about irregularities in the Connecticut Superior Court and Probate Court systems for disciplining both judges and lawyers for misconduct.

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