The total cost, including debt servicing, of the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could reach 2.4 trillion dollars by 2017, a non-partisan estimate found Wednesday, sparking fresh political rancor.
The report by the Congressional Budget Office flared tempers two days after President George W. Bush angered anti-war Democrats by requesting nearly 200 billion dollars more in emergency war funding.
The White House brushed off the estimate as speculation, but admitted that it did not know how much the war would cost.
For the first time, the CBO estimates included the huge costs of financing government borrowing used to pay for the wars.
CBO Director Peter Orszag, said the “bottom line” figure of war spending would be 2.4 trillion dollars under most intense scenarios of military activity, if future costs were not offset by higher taxes or lower spending.
“That is the highest number that is contained in our testimony, I don’t know whether it is a worst case scenario,” he told the House of Representatives Budget Committee.
But White House press secretary Dana Perino dismissed the CBO figures as “a ton of speculation.”
“It’s a hypothetical that was created based on questions that Democrats in Congress that don’t want us to be in the war asked the Congressional Budget Office to provide,” she said.
“We don’t know how much the war is going to cost in the future … you can’t project that far into the future.”
Committee chairman John Spratt said costs of the wars, which the Bush administration styles as twin fronts of the “war on terror,” were huge and rising.
“One can quibble with these assumptions and with the methodology, but no one can contest the enormous cost incurred so far in Iraq, or the likelihood that these costs will keep being incurred into the immediate future,” he said.
But the top Republican on the committee, Paul Ryan, said that while the costs were large, they paled in comparison to military spending during past foreign policy crises.
“We are well below the 50-year average … we do have a real conflict on our hands that is not going away any time soon.”
The CBO, which provides non-partisan budget analysis for Congress, said higher estimates for spending for the wars could start at 1.2 trillion and top out at 1.7 trillion dollars by the end of the next ten year period.
Under the most intense scenarios of US military activity, a further 705 billion dollars could be added to the cost by interest payments, assuming the wars continue to be largely financed by government borrowing, the report said.
The calculations were based on estimated costs up to 2007 for military and diplomatic operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and other war on terror spending.
They also included related spending on medical care and disability compensation for veterans, and survivors benefits and aid for building up foreign armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The CBO projected the total cost over the next 10 years under two scenarios, one with a sharp drawdown of US troops abroad, the other under a more gradual drawdown.
The first scenario envisaged 30,000 troops being deployed abroad in the “war on terror” would decline to 30,000 by the beginning of the fiscal year 2010.
Under the second more intense model, US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq would be drawn down to 75,000 by fiscal year 2013.
The report found that interest costs for money already borrowed for the war on terror between 2001 and now would reach 415 billion dollars by 2017.
A further 290 billion dollars would be added to the price of the wars, if higher end estimates of spending between now and 2017 are added, the report said.
The CBO said so far, Congress had provided 602 billion dollars for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan — 70 percent of which was used in Iraq.
Lawmakers had also allocated 39 billion dollars for diplomatic operations and foreign aid to Iraq and Afghanistan and other nations under the “war on terror” umbrella.