Lawmakers worry about Libya's costs as $550M tab revealed

Lawmakers on Tuesday voiced concern about paying for the Libyan military campaign as the Pentagon revealed the intervention has cost more than $550 million to date.

As U.S. forces led the way in taking out Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s air defense and communications systems, then pounded his army units, the military “incurred added costs of about $550 million through [Monday],” a Pentagon official told The Hill in an email.

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U.S. costs are expected to level out at about $40 million a month.

Lawmakers from both parties raised concerns Tuesday about the costs of another U.S. military campaign — the third in the Arab world — while the economy remains fragile.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) called it “troubling” that Washington is spending so much “elsewhere” when it has fiscal needs at home.

Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) raised concerns about the Obama administration’s expectations for the price tag — and duration — of the Libyan campaign. Rooney said President Obama’s Monday evening speech failed to provide details on either issue.

Members of Congress for months have been bickering about “cutting billions, but we’re dropping billions” of dollars' worth of bombs in Libya, said Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.).

Adm. James Stavridis, U.S. European Command chief and NATO’s supreme allied commander, said U.S. costs should come down “as NATO gets more involved.” More alliance aircraft on no-fly-zone and civilian-protection missions will mean fewer costly flights for American jets, Pentagon officials say.

Throughout the campaign, U.S. military officials have been eager to share with reporters daily statistics showing coalition aircraft are taking on more and more responsibility.

Stavridis told the Senate Armed Services Committee that U.S. aircraft are now performing about “65 percent of the sorties,” with coalition planes carrying out the remaining 35 percent. He added that on “strike missions” — meaning ones in which munitions are fired at Libyan targets — “we’re about 50-50.”

The Pentagon official said that around 60 percent of that is from munitions fired at Libyan targets, adding that “the remaining costs are for higher operating tempo of U.S. forces and deployment costs.”

The Pentagon’s first disclosure of the operation’s costs came hours after Obama delivered a televised speech on the campaign at the National Defense University.

“Future costs are highly uncertain,” the official said. But the military has run some numbers and expects Libya costs for the Pentagon will level off at “about $40 million over the next three weeks as U.S. forces are reduced and NATO assumes more responsibility."

“After that, if U.S. forces stay at the levels currently planned and the operation continues, we would incur added costs of about $40 million per month,” the official said.

Those costs do not include the price of the F-15 that crashed in Libya last week, according to DOD.

The cost estimate is in line with one released before the outset of the operation by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), a Washington think tank with ties to the Pentagon.

CSBA’s report said the first few weeks of a no-fly zone campaign would be the most costly, as Gadhafi’s air defense systems were destroyed. The think tank had estimated those one-time bills could cost between $400 million and $800 million.

Additional costs could come, however, if administration and NATO officials decide to arm the poorly equipped Libyan rebels to help them oust Gadhafi.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said the coalition “might” need to do so. He added that officials should examine whether that move “is consistent with the mandate for intervention.”

New bills could be generated if the U.S. military were to contribute forces and equipment to a NATO stabilization force that lawmakers suggested Tuesday would be required to keep the peace if, for instance, Gadhafi relinquished power and it took some time to establish a new government.

Stavridis said there is currently no plan for such a force, but he did not dismiss the possibility that one might be needed, citing the alliance’s experiences in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s.

Defense officials tell The Hill they have yet to determine whether the Pentagon will need a second emergency supplemental funding bill to cover costs in Libya.

Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations, said last week that much of his service’s Libya expenses have already been paid because it budgets to have its ships operating across the globe.

He also said the Tomahawk missiles his vessels have fired were already paid for and that 3,000 more remain in the Navy’s inventory, adding there is no rush to replace them.

Defense budget analysts say the department likely will eventually send Congress a supplemental spending request to cover its Libya costs.

Levin and other panel members said Tuesday they have yet to receive requested cost figures from the Pentagon.

— This story was initially posted at 11:04 a.m.