Thursday, February 01, 2007

CBO: Iraq surge could actually total 50,000

By Rick Maze - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Feb 1, 2007 18:47:29 EST
The Air Force Times

A new congressional report says the increase of 21,500 combat troops for Iraq proposed by the Bush administration could result in up to 50,000 troops actually being deployed to the region.

The report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office bases that projection on the fact that the Bush plan is unclear about whether the 21,500 troops needed to quell violence are all combat troops or if that number already includes support forces.

“Over the past few years, DoD’s practice has been to deploy a total of about 9,500 per combat brigade to the Iraq theater, including about 4,000 combat troops and about 5,500 supporting troops,” says the five-page report requested by Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., the House Budget Committee chairman, and Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., the House Armed Services Committee chairman.

Spratt, the budget committee chairman and the second-ranking Democrat on the armed services committee, notes that about $379 billion already has been spent on the war in Iraq and a request for an additional $100 billion is expected next week.

“An average of 170,000 military personnel has been maintained in the Iraq theater of operations, and this high deployment level has taken a toll,” he said, noting that last year, the Defense Department cut troops’ time at home between deployments from two years to one so it could have enough people to deploy.

Spratt said the report raises the question of whether even one year at home between deployments can be guaranteed. “The Pentagon will probably have to relax ‘dwell-time’ standards even more,” Spratt said, using the military phrase to describe time at home between deployments.

Skelton said the report “appears to conflict with the estimate given by the chief of staff of the Army in his testimony. We will want to carefully investigate just how big the president's troop increase really is. Is it 21,500 troops, or is it really closer to 33,000 or 43,000?”

At a Jan. 23 hearing, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker said he believed the 21,500 increase included four support battalions. “Right now, we do not anticipate there will be increased combat service support requirements over what is now embedded inside of the brigade combat teams we have,” Schoomaker said.

Army spokesman Lt. Col. Gary Kolb said Schoomaker’s Jan. 23 comments before members of the House Armed Services Committee are “still accurate.”

The support needs of the additional five brigade combat teams will be satisfied by the current support network in Iraq and the support units embedded within those teams, Kolb said Feb. 1.

But the additional support troops included in the budget office estimates are based on the possibility that Schoomaker is wrong, an armed services committee aide said. “While Schoomaker initially said it wouldn’t take extra support troops, CBO doesn’t believe that is possible,” said an aide to Skelton.

The key point of the report is to try to determine how much the new Iraq strategy might cost. The report estimates it would cost $9 billion to $13 billion for a four-month deployment and $20 billion to $27 billion for a one-year deployment of the additional 21,500 troops. Those expenses would be on top of the $8 billion to $13 billion a month for the current force of about 135,000 deployed in Iraq.

The report says the Pentagon “has identified only combat units for deployment” and has not yet indicated which support units will be deployed.

“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 report says. “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.”

Under the administration’s plan, the force increase — already under way — will reach its peak in May. The plan calls for a three-month buildup with a similarly gradual decline when the mission is done. The report does not try to estimate how long the mission might last, looking at only the cost to sustain it for various lengths of time.

Skelton said in a statement that cost is a major issue. “We were concerned that the full financial cost of the escalation would never be made clear to the American people,” he said.

“What the CBO found concerns me,” Skelton said. Part of his worry is based on Schoomaker’s assertion that additional support troops are not needed. Skelton worries combat troops might not have the combat support and combat service support needed if the administration tries to hold down the number of deployed troops.

Rep. Martin Meehan, D-Mass., chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on oversight and investigations that has launched a review of Iraq-related costs, said he also is concerned. “I am disturbed that the administration's figures may not be fully accounting for what a true force increase will entail; if combat troops are deployed, their support needs must not be shortchanged,” Meehan said in a statement.

Staff writer Matthew Cox contributed to this story.

Related reading:

Senators join forces in opposing Bush surge

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