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Surge could cost triple Bush projection, CBO says

WASHINGTON—President Bush's decision to send more American troops to Iraq could cost as much as $10 billion this year, nearly triple the initial $3.2 billion price tag that Bush aides placed on the surge, the Congressional Budget Office said Thursday,

If the additional troops remain in Iraq for more than a year, the CBO said, the cost could rise as high as $29 billion. And under traditional staging formulas, the added combat troops could require up to 28,000 support personnel, at a cost of another $12 billion through next year.

"Thus far, the Department of Defense has identified only combat units for deployment," the CBO said. "However, U.S. military operations also require substantial support forces, including personnel to staff headquarters, serve as military police and provide communications, contracting, engineering, intelligence, medical and other services."

The Pentagon says it can undertake the surge with a smaller support contingent.

"CBO's report concludes that the cost of the president's plan to surge troops will be higher than previously indicated, both in dollar terms and in the burdens it places on our military," said Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., the House Budget Committee chairman.

Sean Kevelighan, a White House budget office spokesman, disputed the CBO cost projection.

"We are still reviewing the report but maintain that additional brigades will cost $5.6 billion through `07," he said.

Kevelighan's figure was up from the $3.2 billion estimate that Bush aides had provided previously.

Congress already has appropriated $349 billion for the Iraq war, Spratt said. Bush is expected to send lawmakers an emergency spending bill next week seeking $100 billion more for the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, $80 billion of that for Iraq. He also will send his budget plan for the 2008 fiscal year next week, seeking tens of billions of dollars more for the wars.

The supplemental appropriations measure won't include money for the 21,500 new troops now en route to Iraq.

The new report on the cost of the surge comes as many Democratic lawmakers and some Republicans question the wisdom of sending more U.S. troops to Iraq.

Some Democrats have talked of trying to cut off money for more troops, but the party's congressional leaders so far have said they won't do so. Administration officials maintain that no extra money is needed because the added costs can be handled from existing Pentagon funds.

Spratt requested the CBO report along with Reps. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., the House Armed Services Committee chairman, and Martin Meehan, D-Mass., who heads the oversight and investigations subcommittee of the armed services panel.

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow reiterated the Bush administration's assertion that it can pay for the surge with money already appropriated to the Defense Department.

"The money is in the budget now for the five brigades into Baghdad and the 4,000 Marines into Anbar (province), and we would encourage everybody to take a look at what happens," Snow said.

That claim didn't satisfy Skelton.

"Because the president's advisers have indicated that they will pay for the troop increase from funds already provided to the Department of Defense, we were concerned that the full financial cost of the escalation would never be made clear to the American people," he said.

The Congressional Budget Office said the troop increase would cost more because thousands of support personnel would have to accompany those sent into combat.

It projected a range of costs tied to four scenarios for the surge, from one peaking at 35,000 troops and lasting 10 months to one peaking at 48,000 troops and lasting 18 months.

Whether fewer or more troops are dispatched, the increase will take three months to reach full force and three months for a withdrawal, the CBO said.

The agency gave cost projections for 48,000 new troops being in Iraq for four months at peak strength and for the same number for one year at peak strength; it made similar projections for 35,000 more troops over the same periods if fewer support personnel are needed as the Pentagon claims.

Snow, Bush's chief spokesman, said it was "tricky" to try to predict how long the additional troops would be needed.

"I won't give you an absolute timetable, but obviously the next six to eight months are going to be times when people expect to see something happening," he said. "But I would be very wary about trying to assign a specific date to it."

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(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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