However, the worst fears about how much the intervention in Libya
would cost have proven to be unfounded. The total direct expenditures to
the United States in Libya over the past six months are less than the
costs of one week of Iraq or Afghanistan. This amount for Libya includes
military operations, humanitarian aid, and non-lethal assistance. That
the U.S. role has been relatively affordable does not justify an
intervention that was hastily assembled, legally dubious, and conducted
with limited means that have failed to achieve the ultimate objective,
which Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta declared was "to do what we can to bring down the regime of [Libyan leader Muammar] Qaddafi."
The cost of military operations is difficult to determine, since the
Pentagon has not been forthcoming regarding Libya. Nevertheless, five
data points are available either from official releases or media leaks
that can be used to extrapolate current expenditures: March 30, $550 million; April 11, $608 million; Mid-May, $664 million; June 3, $714 million; and June 30: $820 million.
It is unclear if these numbers include replacing known aircraft loses,
including the crashes of an F-15 on March 21 (roughly $30 million) and a
MQ-8 Fire Scout on June 21 ($9 million). However, it can be assumed
that U.S. military operations costs in Libya per month are between
$60-$80 million, with total current costs around $1 billion.
The cost of humanitarian aid is easier to determine thanks to the weekly "Libya: Disaster Response Updates," which the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has published since late February. The latest update lists the total USAID and State Department humanitarian funding at $84 million.
Finally, the amount of (overt) non-lethal assistance has remained $25 million since the April 26
presidential memorandum, which authorized the "drawdown of nonlethal
commodities and services from the inventory and resources of any agency
of the United States Government... to protect civilians and civilian
populated areas under threat of attack in Libya." It is unclear if all
of this non-lethal assistance has been dispersed. On May 10,
the State Department announced that one shipment of halal meals,
medical supplies, uniforms, boots, and tents had been made, with a
second shipment arriving in Benghazi on June 17.
Therefore, based on the available data, the total direct expenditures
of America's role in Libya is approximately $1.1 billion and counting.
Assuredly, there are also covert funds being dispersed (hopefully, with
close congressional oversight), and there will be equipment and
munitions replacement costs that require additional future funds. In
addition, it is impossible to calculate what U.S. personnel and
resources will be needed to help stabilize and rebuild Libya after the
civil war ends. (For an excellent overview on U.S. options for a
post-Qaddafi Libya, read this Contingency Planning Memorandum by Daniel Serwer.)
That the American role in the intervention in Libya has been
relatively inexpensive does not mean it was strategically wise.
Furthermore, almost six months in the end date remains predominantly in
the hands of one political leader. On the eve of the military
intervention, Muammar Qaddafi vowed
to fight a long war "with unlimited patience and deep faith."
Unfortunately, he was telling the truth, and the people of Libya are
paying the ultimate price.
This article originally appeared at CFR.org.