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How Libya costs compare to Iraq and Afghanistan

From msnbc.com's Tom Curry:  According to NBC's Jim Miklaszewski, the Defense Department puts the cost of the U.S. military operation against Libya’s Gadhafi regime at $550 million through March 28. On a per diem basis, that would average out to about $55 million a day.

Defense Department officials also said that with non-U.S. NATO forces now assuming most of the burden of the Libya mission, the U.S. military cost should be approximately $40 million over the next three weeks. That would equate to less $2 million a day.

Obama has stressed the cost reduction argument in his speeches on Libya, saying Monday night, “Because of this transition to a broader, NATO-based coalition, the risk and cost of this operation -- to our military and to American taxpayers -- will be reduced significantly.”

Obama added that “if we tried to overthrow Qaddafi by force” the dangers to U.S. forces “would be far greater. So would the costs and our share of the responsibility for what comes next. To be blunt, we went down that road in Iraq.”

Welcome to the era of what political scientist Michael Mandelbaum calls “the Frugal Superpower.”

How does the cost so far of the Libya intervention compare to the U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq?

According to an estimate by the Congressional Budget Office, the Afghanistan operation in the current fiscal year will cost $110 billion, which would average out to more than $300 million per day.

At the height of the Iraq conflict – at least in terms of cost, if not in terms of intensity of combat – it cost $140 billion in fiscal year 2008. That would equate to about $383 million a day.

CBO cautions that most appropriations for Afghanistan and Iraq and for related activities "appear in the same budget accounts as appropriations for DoD’s other functions," so it's not possible "to determine precisely how much has been spent" on those two wars, but CBO's is probably the best estimate we have.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates testified to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees last month that by the end of calendar year 2011, he expects there to be fewer than 100,000 troops deployed in both Iraq and Afghanistan with “virtually all of those forces in Afghanistan.”

This will allow him to “begin reducing Army active duty end strength by 27,000 and the Marine Corps by somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000,” Gates said. That will mean reduced future payroll, health care, and other costs.

But maintaining 100,000 troops in the field remains a very expensive proposition.

The larger picture is that the Defense Department this fiscal year will spend about $712 billion (or 19 percent of total federal spending), according to the CBO. That works out to about $1.95 billion a day.

If there were no Iraq and Afghanistan operations in the current fiscal year, Pentagon spending would be about 20 percent less – assuming the money now being spent in Iraq and Afghanistan weren’t used for some other military purposes.