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War experts: U.S. campaign cost-effective

U.S. military operations in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
U.S. military operations in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.  

From Kitty Pilgrim
CNN Financial News

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The 15,000-pound bombs, millions of pounds of ordnance, ships, aircraft carriers, B-1 bombers and helicopters don't exactly come cheap in fighting the war in Afghanistan.

But military experts say the United States operation has been efficient and very cost-effective compared to other war efforts.

The cost of Operation Enduring Freedom is estimated at less than $2.5 billion by experts, and $3.8 billion by the Department of Defense.

"We spend about $350 billion a year on our military, so when we have to conduct an operation like this, it costs us a few more billion dollars to actually conduct the operation, but a lot of the costs have already been paid," said Steven Kosiak, director of budget studies with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

Experts don't know the exact scope of the operations, but they can offer some informed estimates.

For example, during the Gulf War, there were about 35,000 air sorties, costing $15 billion. Operation Enduring Freedom has involved 4,700 flights, or $2 billion, they say.

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The distances in this conflict are a cost issue. The Navy's F/A-18 fighter bomber costs $5,000 an hour to fly. It's 700 miles from the Arabian Sea, where the aircraft carriers are based, to Kabul, and 2,500 miles from a base in Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

The flying cost $300 million for the first two months, and another $300 million for the B-1 bomber lost in the Indian Ocean this week.

The military broke out the big-ticket firepower for this war. The Navy is thought to have launched about 100 Tomahawk land attack cruise missiles, costing about $1 million apiece.

There are several dozen warships in the region and several thousand Army and Marine Corps troops. But ground troop costs were saved by using allies like the Northern Alliance to fight along with U.S. forces.

In Desert Storm, only about 7 percent to 10 percent of the munitions used were precision-guided munitions or "smart bombs." In Afghanistan, the figure rose to 60 percent. They are more expensive, but very precise.

"The air war has been extremely cost-effective in the sense there was very little collateral damage in terms of civilian casualties because of the extensive use of smart bombs," said Jim Phillips, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

Putting this in historical context, the United States was spending about 40 percent of gross domestic product on the military in World War II. Today it's about 3 percent, and only a tiny fraction of that is going to the war in Afghanistan.


• Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments
• U.S. Department of Defense
• The Heritage Foundation

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