The U.S. Defense Department may need to modify next year’s budget to pay for airstrikes targeting Islamic militants in Iraq, officials said.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin Dempsey didn’t say how much the department has spent so far on the military campaign that began Aug. 7 and targeted areas controlled by the Islamic State in the northern part of the country.
But both acknowledged that the department may need to adjust its budget request for fiscal 2015, beginning Oct. 1, depending on how long the bombing campaign lasts.
“Maybe,” Hagel said when asked whether the spending plan will need to be reshaped to accommodate the latest operations in Iraq. “You’re constantly shaping a budget to assure that resources match the mission and the mission and the resources match the threat.”
The secretary added, “We’ve had to move assets over the last couple of months, obviously, to accomplish what we accomplished in Iraq. That costs money — that takes certain monies out of certain funds.”
Gen. Dempsey said the military made “really remarkable” adjustments to its regional footprint to carry out the airstrikes in Iraq. “But we — there may be a point where — I think we’re fine for Fiscal Year ’14 and we’ll have to continue to gather the data and see what it does to us in ’15,” he said.
For comparison, the cost of the U.S.-led airstrikes in Libya in 2011 reached almost $1 billion in less than five months, according to previous reports.
The Pentagon requested a fiscal 2015 defense budget of about $554 billion, including a base budget of $496 billion and a war budget of about $59 billion. Congress hasn’t yet approved the spending plan. The White House also requested a separate $5 billion counter-terrorism fund, of which, $4 billion would go to the Defense Department and $1 billion would go to the State Department.
While Republicans have blasted the so-called Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund as a “slush fund,” administration officials have said it’s necessary to “provide the flexibility and resources required” to deal with terrorist threats from South Asia to Central Africa. The account would include $1.5 billion for a Syria-Regional Stabilization Initiative.
More than 150,000 people have been killed in the three-year-old civil war in Syria. The conflict has helped fuel the rise of the Islamic militant group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, the al-Qaida inspired Islamic organization that now controls parts of Syria and Iraq.
The organization on Tuesday circulated video showing the beheading of American journalist James Foley, who was kidnapped in Syria in 2012, and threatened to execute another, Steven Joel Sotloff, who disappeared near the Syrian-Turkish border in 2013.
During the briefing, Hagel condemned the execution of Foley and vowed further attempts to rescue remaining hostages. He described the Islamic State as “beyond anything we have seen” and left open the possibility of expanding U.S. military involvement to eastern Syria. “We’re looking at all options,” he said.