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Cost of Libya campaign runs counter to belt-tightening plans

By CHRIS CARROLL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 22, 2011

WASHINGTON — Other coalition members may soon be assuming a larger burden in Operation Odyssey Dawn, but the U.S. has already racked up expenses ranging into the hundreds of millions of dollars, raising questions about how the country will pay for a third war amid a shrinking defense budget and a still-struggling national economy.

Gen. Carter Ham, the U.S. Africa Command leader and the general in charge of the Libya the operation, said Monday that American aircraft flew only about half of 80 combat missions on Monday, and that the U.S.’s share of the fighting would fall in coming days.

But politicians on the right and left said the huge expense of Odyssey Dawn, which aims to protect forces opposing Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi from being slaughtered by his military, is coming at the wrong time.

“Congress has been squabbling for months over a budget to run the federal government for a fiscal year that is almost half over,” Sen. Dick Lugar, a Republican from Indiana, said Monday. “We argue over where to cut $100 million here and there from programs many people like. So here comes an open-ended military action with no end game envisioned.”

Rep. Denis Kucinich, a liberal Democrat from Ohio, has said that President Barack Obama could face impeachment for failing to seek approval from Congress for the strikes, which began Saturday. The U.S. can’t afford another war, he said.

“The fact is we’re going to spend half a billion dollars in the first week on this war, we don’t have the resources,” Kucinich said in an interview Monday on MSNBC.

How much has the U.S. spent so far?

The Department of Defense has yet to release an overall estimate, but Tomahawk cruise missiles, which were fired in a massive fusillade to begin the attack and have been sent after targets scores of times since, cost between $700,000 and $1 million each, depending on their capabilities. As of Tuesday, 161 had been fired, said Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of Naval Forces Europe and Naval Forces Africa..

Beyond ordnance, the mission includes a number of Navy and Marine Corps ships, around-the-world B-2 stealth bomber flights, missions by Air Force F-15 and F-16 fighters, aerial jamming missions by the EA-18G Growlers, and missions by Marine AV-8B Harriers.

A Marine V-22 Osprey flew from the USS Kearsarge to rescue one of the pilots from an Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle that crashed Tuesday due to mechanical errors. Both pilots survived, but the jet was reduced to little more than a pile of tangled metal, picked through by dozens of Libyans in a small village east of Benghazi. Valued by the Air Force at $31.1 million in 1998 dollars, the F-15 would be worth more than $40 million in today’s figures.

No one can call the cost of the Libya operation a surprise. In the weeks leading to the attack, a report released by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Analysis estimated eye-watering totals.

“Establishing this no-fly zone could require a series of coordinated strikes to degrade Libyan air defense systems,” wrote lead author Todd Harrison. “Depending on the number of ground targets, this one-time strike operation might cost between $500 million and $1 billion.”

Maintaining the operation, the report continued, could cost $100 million to $300 million per week.

carrollc@stripes.osd.mil

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