from Danger Room
How much will the Libya war cost America, now that NATO jets are hitting Moammar Gadhafi’s forces? Good luck figuring out an answer.
Michael Donley, the secretary of the Air Force, leveled with reporters that the cost estimates for the war are coming “by the hour” now that U.S. “participation in strike operations has now gone away.” NATO says it’s now done with U.S. combat planes like the A-10 Warthog or the F-15 Strike Eagle. It’s now the job of foreign warplanes to hit Gadhafi loyalist tanks and artillery. The U.S. is moving on to refueling, spying, and jamming missions instead, with its planes on “standby” if needed.
Donley’s best estimate, given to reporters at a breakfast meeting on Tuesday, was that the war has cost the Air Force about $75 million so far, with expenses running to $4 million a day. That was the bill when 89 U.S. planes were directly or indirectly involved in the combat mission. Now he expects it to drop, but to what, he didn’t say.
By contrast, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Congress last week that without a U.S. combat role in the Libya war, he expects the bill to run to $40 million per month. That doesn’t exactly match the Air Force’s tally. By Donley’s figures, if the Air Force slashed its costs for the war in half, it would still exceed Gates’ totals — and that’s not counting the Navy’s contribution.
None of this confusion should come as a surprise. The Libya war was launched on the fly and its goals are uncertain. No wonder the war bill is written with an Etch-a-Sketch.