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Press Secretary: Pentagon ‘Extraordinarily Transparent’ in Reporting War Costs

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 10, 2008 – In a broad-ranging news conference today, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell fielded questions on the costs of the war on terror, troops’ water safety in Iraq, the fielding schedule for mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, and a recent contract for aerial refueling tankers. Video

The Pentagon has spent $527 billion dollars fighting the war on terror since Sept. 11, 2001, officials released today. Through December 2007, the Defense Department had paid $406.2 billion for the war in Iraq, $92.6 for operations in Afghanistan, and $27.8 billion defending the homeland, Morrell said.

“I think the Pentagon has been extraordinarily transparent in what we know the costs of the war to be,” Morrell said in response to questions relating to media reports pointing to an independently estimated $3 trillion war debt over the next decade.

Morrell said that Pentagon officials feel the reports are somewhat exaggerated and include many additional costs other than direct defense-related costs. He said he did not know how much the war would ultimately cost, but that taxpayers were not paying the price for wars alone.

“It’s been an extraordinary sacrifice not only on the part of the American taxpayer, but (also) on the warfighter -- but all in defense of our national security,” Morrell said.

As of this morning, 3,974 soldiers have died in the war, he said. There have been 16,211 injured and returned to duty. Another 13,109 have been injured and not returned to duty.

President Bush visited the Pentagon last week to work on his administration’s final war budget for fiscal 2010, Morrell said, even as the Pentagon is still waiting on a chunk of its fiscal 2008 global war on terror supplement. The request for $105 billion went to Congress a year ago, Morrell said.

“We here in this building are certainly doing our part to try to calculate as best we can for the Congress, for the American people, what we think this is going to cost, even as the Congress has failed to provide us with the money we need to fight the war,” Morrell said.

In other news, the press secretary today updated figures for mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle production in February.

There were 1,428 of the vehicles produced last month, 136 more than expected, he said. Defense leaders have made it a priority to get the vehicles to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan as an additional safety measure against deadly roadside bombs.

As of March 5, 3,432 of the vehicles were in theater, with 2,611 fielded to warfighters. That was an increase of more than 800 in theater during February, Morrell said. In all, the Defense Department now plans to buy 15,760 MRAPs, he said.

Morrell also fielded questions about an appeal by Boeing Co. of the $40 billion contract for aerial refueling tankers that went recently to its competitor, Northrop Grumman Corp., and its partner, Airbus.

“We believe this to have been a fair and transparent competition. Airbus won based upon the merits of their proposal. And I think that the taxpayers are being provided with the best value for their dollar, and the warfighters are getting the best plane possible,” Morrell said.

Reporters also questioned Morrell about a soon-to-be released inspector general’s report that cited water quality problems in Iraq that were purportedly causing some illness among soldiers.

The report, which could be released this week, cited water quality problems from 2004 to 2006 at three sites run by a contractor and at two military-operated locations. The water problems reported were not with soldiers’ drinking water, but with water used for bathing and cleaning. The report does not directly link the dirty water to reported illness at the sites, Morrell said.

“There’s no evidence that any of the illnesses were related to the water. So as far as we can tell, there was no widespread health risk or illness associated with the few problems that were discovered with the water system,” Morrell said. “Since 2006 all the water has met all the health standards. So if there was a problem, it existed prior to that time. Since then, all the testing has shown that all the water, bottled or otherwise, has met our health standards.”

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