When asked how long we’ll be in Iraq, President Bush invariably replies, “As long as it takes.” And when asked how much the war will cost, he replies to the effect that we will provide whatever our men and women need to fight that war.

Further down the ladder, however, administration officials have to make more precise estimates as to the cost and manpower needs of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. This week the administration disclosed some of those figures.

To the question of how much and how much longer, the answer is at least another $160 billion and at least another two years.

In a briefing this week, the Army’s top operations officer said that plans call for U.S. strength to remain at 120,000 Army troops at least through the end of 2006. There are 150,000 U.S. military now, the number bulked up for Sunday’s elections.

As for the cost, the Bush administration next month will ask for an additional $80 billion, most of it – $75 billion – to cover Army operations in Iraq. That’s on top of $25 billion approved last summer, bringing the cost of the war for this fiscal year, ending Sept. 30, to $105 billion. This money is separate from and in addition to the main Defense budget.

The total cost of the military war on terror is now over $300 billion, and the administration indicated it will likely ask for another $80 billion in 2006.

The Congressional Budget Office this week estimated that if the war does begin winding down after 2006 the war costs will have added $590 billion to the deficit over the next decade.

It is perhaps uncharitable to recall how the White House slapped down Bush’s then chief economic adviser, Lawrence Lindsey, for speculating that the war could cost between $100 billion and $200 billion.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com)