WASHINGTON -- The U.S. military buildup in the Persian Gulf, already well in excess of 100,000 personnel, will continue indefinitely and may lead to a larger, more permanent commitment of American forces to the region than first anticipated, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney said yesterday.
Mr. Cheney, testifying on Capitol Hill for the first time since U.S. forces began moving to the region Aug. 7, said the added cost of Operation Desert Shield would be about $15 billion for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 -- more than $1 billion a month if the crisis continues for the entire year. Only last week, the Pentagon circulated an estimate of $11.3 billion.
"If the conflict occurs, these costs would multiply many-fold," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Pentagon budget officials expect to offset about half that amount with direct foreign contributions to the U.S. Treasury, Mr. Cheney said. "We are, first of all, happy to accept all donations and offers of assistance," he said.
Besides higher costs, one result of current U.S. policy to deter Iraqi aggression "may involve more of a lasting kind of commitment than we'd expected," Mr. Cheney said. He declined to elaborate at the public hearing.
A week ago, Secretary of State James A. Baker III told a congressional panel that the United States was likely to keep some military presence, possibly only naval forces, in the region indefinitely, even if Iraq withdraws its troops from Kuwait.
Mr. Cheney and Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared together to answer lawmakers who expressed concern about the ultimate size and duration of the U.S. military deployment and mounting frustration over the response of Arab countries and U.S. allies to Bush administration appeals for help in underwriting the costs.
"We believe we need to continue the deployment for some additional period of time," Mr. Cheney told the committee. "There is a natural tendency to wonder at what point we're going to cut that off. We've not yet made that decision.
"But I think the worst possible sin we could commit would be to send enough forces to get into trouble, but not enough forces to be able to deal with it, should in fact a situation of hostilities arise."
General Powell, describing what he called "the largest, most complex rapid deployment of U.S. forces since World War II," said an initial military presence of 10,000 U.S. naval personnel has now swelled to "well, well in excess of 100,000 people."
General Powell said U.S. troops already based in Europe would eventually be sent to the region to spell other U.S. soldiers deployed there. Military officials, aware that some sailors have exceeded the standard six-month limit for sea duty, are planning to rotate whole units in and out of the region, he said.
"We're planning tours, we're planning R&R [rest and recreation] so that guys get a break and they're not always up on the line ... while we're establishing a final rotation policy," General Powell said.
In addition, Mr. Cheney said that he was preparing to send Congress proposals for awarding certain benefits to U.S. military personnel usually reserved for wartime, including federal income tax waivers, subsistence allowances for families, free mail and imminent danger pay.
Several senators vented anger over what they considered meager contributions from several allies, especially West Germany and Japan.
"I find it appalling," said Sen. William S. Cohen, R-Maine. "This kind of cooperation from the allies ... is not going to stand well with me and I hope with a lot of other members" when it comes time to decide the level of U.S. spending for the defense of Western Europe and the Far East.
Mr. Cheney said that as many as 10 Arab countries were sending military units to defend Saudi Arabia.