Pentagon Said to Seek $80 Billion for War Amid Withdrawal

The Pentagon will ask Congress to approve about $79.5 billion for combat operations, the least since 2005, as U.S. troops withdraw from Afghanistan, according to administration officials.

The proposal for war operations, which aren’t included in the main Pentagon budget, may be submitted as soon as today, said the officials, who asked not to be identified discussing the funding request before it’s presented.

War spending soared in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, peaking at $187 billion in fiscal 2008, when the U.S. had 166,300 troops in Iraq during the “surge” under President George W. Bush.

The new request, the smallest since $75.6 billion in fiscal 2005, reflects President Barack Obama’s decision to draw down U.S. forces in Afghanistan, with the goal of removing most of them by the end of next year. The U.S. force in Afghanistan is projected to decline to 34,000 by February from 63,000 currently.

Spending of $79.5 billion for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 would be an 8 percent decrease from the $86.5 billion approved by Congress for the current year. It’s also a decline from the $88.5 billion the administration offered as a “placeholder” estimate last month, when it sent Congress a combined $615 billion budget for war and other Pentagon spending for fiscal 2014.

The new request also would provide money to repair war-damaged equipment such as radios, helicopters and vehicles, a sustained Persian Gulf presence including troops in Kuwait, and a military-equipment sales office in Baghdad to support Iraq’s military.

Costs Questioned

Even with those expenditures, the request seems too high based on the average cost per soldier in Afghanistan, according to Todd Harrison, a defense analyst.

The Pentagon “will need to fully explain why war funding is much higher than anticipated, given the pace of the drawdown in Afghanistan,” Harrison, of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, said in an e-mail.

“Costs should be declining much faster than this if troop levels are indeed coming down as the administration has previously indicated,” he said.

The war budget won’t decline dramatically “because there are so many things going on,” Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale said at an April 10 news conference. He cited the repair or “reset” of equipment, and said “the costs of getting out of Afghanistan will go up substantially.”

Withdrawal’s Costs

Even as the fighting continues in Afghanistan, the U.S. is mounting what may become a $7 billion effort to withdraw most of its forces and equipment, defense officials said in interviews.

The withdrawal will require sending Humvees, helicopters, drones and 12 1/2-ton mine-resistant vehicles home by rail and truck networks stretching from Karachi in Pakistan to ports in the Baltic Sea.

Unlike Iraq, where “the fighting had for a good extent stopped” before the U.S. began to withdraw, in Afghanistan “there’s still certainly an active insurgency and an active fight and essentially we’re in contact with the enemy as we do this,” Alan Estevez, the U.S. assistant secretary of defense for logistics, said.

Among the biggest contractors involved in the move are A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S, the Copenhagen-based owner of the world’s largest container line, the American President Lines unit of Singapore-based Neptune Orient Lines Ltd., and Hamburg, Germany-based Hapag-Lloyd AG, according to Estevez.

Current Spending

The Pentagon spent $97.5 billion in fiscal 2012 for Afghanistan operations, including improving Afghan security forces, according to the Defense Department’s latest spending figures through February.

It has spent $29 billion so far this fiscal year, or a monthly average of about $5.9 billion, according to the department’s figures.

Since the October 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, the Pentagon has spent $468.5 billion on the war, excluding Afghanistan reconstruction, State Department and intelligence activities, according to the department.

So far, the conflict has led to the deaths of 2,212 Americans and injured 18,535. About 16,725 Afghan civilians have been killed.

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