Nov 5 (Reuters) - The Pentagon will likely need emergency funding in the coming months to support the war in Afghanistan, the top U.S. military officer said. If such a request is made, it would test President Barack Obama’s pledge to incorporate war spending into the regular budget process.
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did not say how much additional money would be needed, and the White House budget office said no decisions about additional funding for the military have been made.
AWAITING OBAMA’S TROOP DECISION
Any so-called emergency supplemental, if one is submitted, would depend in large part on the number of additional troops Obama decides to send to Afghanistan next year after he completes his review of war strategy in the coming weeks.
Other factors will also play a role in calculating the size of a supplemental, including large-scale U.S. investments in equipment and infrastructure, as well as an expected boost in funding to train Afghan security forces.
Supplemental financing would come on top of the $130 billion that Congress has authorized for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for the fiscal year that started on Oct. 1.
HOW MUCH IS BEING SPENT?
The cost of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan has more than doubled over the last year, reflecting a surge in troop numbers as well as skyrocketing spending on everything from new helicopters and armored vehicles to medical care for the wounded, military officials said.
A major factor in the increase has been the high cost associated with the surge in troop levels over the last 12 months, from just over 30,000 to 67,000 now. But equipment and other factors play a major role as well, and fluctuate considerably month-to-month.
In August 2009, when 63,000 troops were deployed, U.S. military spending in Afghanistan totaled $5.4 billion, after a record $6.7 billion in June.
By contrast, spending in fiscal year 2008 averaged about $2.7 billion per month. In August 2008, some 33,000 U.S. troops were based in the country. A monthly average for fiscal 2009, which ended on Sept. 30, is not yet available.
HOW MUCH MORE WILL BE NEEDED?
Some U.S. lawmakers and budget analysts say an upcoming supplemental could total $40 billion to $50 billion, but too many questions remain unanswered to say for sure.
Military officials have cited rough cost estimates of $500,000 per troop per year deployed in Afghanistan.
By that estimate, a 40,000 troop increase, as recommended by General Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, would cost about $20 billion a year in personnel costs alone.
The $500,000 figure, which one Pentagon official called "an extraordinarily rough guess," includes pay, travel, medical care, food and fuel. But it does not include multibillion-dollar expenditures on infrastructure, new equipment, and training Afghan security forces.
Growing public concerns about adding to the record $1.4 trillion U.S. budget deficit could make another emergency war supplemental a political liability for Obama.
The administration of former President George W. Bush was widely criticized for using such requests to fund the wars. Both Democrats and Republicans said such urgent requests faced less scrutiny than the regular budget.
Obama pledged to put an end to the practice but asked Congress in April for an extra $83.4 billion to fund the wars, citing threats from al Qaeda and a resurgent Taliban. Obama said at the time that the supplemental was "the last planned."
Kenneth Baer, communications director for the White House Office of Management and Budget, said Obama’s budget provides full-year funding for "anticipated" costs in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that the president has made clear "his intent to fund these wars through the normal budgeting process."
But he stopped short of ruling out a supplemental, saying: "No decisions have been made about additional costs related to new resource requests from the Department of Defense." (Reporting by Adam Entous, Alister Bull and Andy Sullivan in Washington; editing by Mohammad Zargham)