WASHINGTON -- The cost of the U.S. military buildup could double the current Pentagon estimate -- to more than $30 billion in 1991 -- as an additional 200,000 troops head for the Persian Gulf, defense officials said yesterday.
That amount -- nearly $100 million a day -- would balloon even higher if hostilities erupt, added the officials. They said no cost estimates were available for combat.
The United States plans to have more than 400,000 troops in the region by the end of next month. Administration officials have said they may order a military strike after Jan. 15 if Saddam Hussein's forces have not left Kuwait by then.
Defense officials said the department's official estimate for fiscal 1991, which began Oct. 1, remains at $15 billion. But they said Defense Secretary Dick Cheney might unveil the higher figure later this week when he testifies before the House Armed Services Committee.
Pentagon officials have been working on a revised estimate since Nov. 8, when President Bush ordered a doubling of U.S. combat power in the region.
[One congressional official told the Associated Press the administration planned to pay for the operation with federal borrowing, not by raising taxes. Under the five-year budget bill enacted last month, possible expenditures for Operation Desert Shield were specifically left unlimited and the government was given the power to pay the expenses by simply borrowing the money from the public.]
A higher cost figure is certain to spark additional calls from Congress for U.S. allies to contribute more money to the effort, a congressional aide predicted. "We don't think they're doing enough in light of the current [$15 billion] estimate, and if that number doubles we'll start screaming about it twice as loudly," he said.
About one-third of the 1991 cost of Operation Desert Shield probably will be covered by trimming the Pentagon's existing budget, one defense official said, but the Pentagon is likely to seek up to $20 billion in spending authority to cover the rest.
The Pentagon also has said it spent about $2.7 billion on Operation Desert Shield during August and September, the last two months of fiscal 1990.
Representative John P. Murtha, D-Pa., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee's defense subcommittee, suggested nearly a month ago that the annual cost of maintaining U.S. forces in the gulf was likely to double -- mainly because of the added cost of calling up reservists.
Defense officials also said higher oil, payroll, transportation, and logistical costs are responsible for the increased bill.
Last month, the Pentagon said U.S. allies had pledged $9.1 billion to support the U.S. effort but actually paid only $1.3 billion.
The nations and the sums pledged so far include $6 billion by the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, led by Kuwait's $2.5 billion; $2 billion from Japan; $1 billion from Germany; and $95 million from South Korea.