U.S. officials said on Wednesday that coalition forces have suppressed Muammar el-Qaddafi’s air defenses, but his ground forces continue to target population centers in Libya, feeding concerns that the operation could ultimately cost the United States billions -- and require the Pentagon to request emergency funding from Congress to pay for it.
Five days into Operation Odyssey Dawn, the bill racked up by the U.S. alone is undoubtedly already in the hundreds of millions of dollars. And the U.S. military, which remains in the lead now, will continue to pump millions more into strikes targeting military assets in Libya.
The cost of war is often as unpredictable as war itself -- a lesson the U.S. military learned the hard way on Monday when it lost its first major piece of equipment, an F-15 fighter aircraft that crashed because of a mechanical failure.
After nearly a decade at war, the Pentagon has routinely leveraged emergency funding to replace older fighters lost in battle with fifth-generation stealth aircraft. And, if the Libya operation is no exception, the Defense Department could seek to buy an extra F-35 -- with a price tag of more than $100 million -- to replace the downed F-15.
The ultimate total the United States spends will hinge on the length and scope of the strikes as well as on the contributions of coalition allies. But Todd Harrison, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said the U.S. costs could “easily pass the $1 billion mark on this operation, regardless of how well things go.”