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Dueling ISIL Ops Costs Estimates: $3B Or $15B A Year?

Posted by Colin Clark on


UPDATED: Former Defense OMB Head Begs To Differ On Estimates

CORRECTED Adams’ Estimate Is For A Year, Not A Month

WASHINGTON: The Pentagon has been pegging the operations against the terror group known as ISIL at $7 million to $10 million a day. If you extrapolate that across a year it comes very close to the $3.8 billion estimate that Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments has come up with in a new report estimating how much the American taxpayer will pay to “degrade and destroy ISIL.” Breaking D readers will remember the Friday remarks of Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, to the effect that the Pentagon faces budget “problems” because of the ISIL operations and is rebuilding its budget for next year to pay for these operations. Estimating the Costs of Operations against ISIL Here are the three scenarios Harrison worked for his estimates:

Assuming a moderate level of air operations and 2,000 deployed ground forces, the costs would likely run between $200 and $320 million per month. If air operations are conducted at a higher pace and 5,000 ground forces are deployed, the costs would be between $350 and $570 million per month. If operations expand significantly to include the deployment of 25,000 U.S. troops on the ground, as some have recommended, costs would likely reach $1.1 to $1.8 billion per month. On an annualized basis, the lower-intensity air operations could cost $2.4 to $3.8 billion per year, the higher-intensity air operations could cost $4.2 to $6.8 billion per year, and deployment of a larger ground contingent could drive annual costs as high as $13 to $22 billion.”

UPDATE: Gordon Adams, who ran the national security section of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget from 1993-1997, offered a much more substantial estimate bolstered by this explanation.

“The CSBA analysis, which is very competent, sets a bottom line for what the ISIS operation may cost. But, as they acknowledge, it does not include a number of costs that should be included: humanitarian relief, supporting and equipping the Iraqis and Syrian opposition, the costs of replacement munitions, and the costs we will almost certainly incur to support other coalition participants, especially the Jordanians and the Central Europeans,” he said in an email. “I think their air operation numbers, while accurately estimated, are low, because the air campaign is widespread and will grow in intensity. In the end, I think the monthly number will be above their estimate, perhaps as much as $15 billion a month year.” (Gordon and I both missed that he mistakenly had changed his text to a month from a year. Apologies. The Eds.)

These estimates, we must note, do not compare apples to apples. Gordon is including stuff the State Department, CIA and others would pay for, while Todd is focused much more strictly on the DoD budget.

Todd adds that his cost estimates do include the replacement cost of munitions, which is stated in his report. “He [Adams] certainly has some valid criticisms on other things that were not included in our estimates,” the CSBA expert notes with magnanimity.
UPDATE ENDS

Sydney asked Todd those pertinent questions about the assumptions undergirding the report, which you can find on the CSBA website Monday morning.

Q:  Is there a tipping point where DoD would require either a Congressional vote for additional funds (e.g. OCO) or reprogramming authority, and if so, which of your scenarios might require that?

A: There’s no tipping point until December 11th at the earliest when the CR runs out. By then DoD should have a better idea of how things are unfolding. Under the Boots on the Ground scenario DoD would certainly need additional funding. Under the lower-intensity air campaign scenario (which is basically an extension of what we are doing now), DoD could probably fund it by reprogramming funds if they had to–but I imagine they would still use the opportunity to request more OCO funding. But Congress won’t need to vote on anything until December.

Q: You say you’re assuming the level of sorties requires a second carrier in the region (i.e. one above normal levels) — does that apply to all three scenarios?

A: Yes, we assumed the extra carrier in all three scenarios. DoD could get by without it, especially if they could base aircraft from closer locations. But it adds a lot of flexibility to be able to operate aircraft from sovereign U.S. territory…

We weren’t really trying to postulate specific strategies or policy options in the scenarios, just variations in the force levels employed. I agree that the Boots on the Ground option is probably the maximum plausible level of intervention. The middle scenario was just intended to be something in between–more than we’re doing now but still less than the maximum option. There are a number of ways the middle scenario level of forces could be employed, but we don’t go so far as to postulate what those would be.

What do you think?