A surge in the "surge"

The Defense Department admits that 21,500 troops really means as many as 28,500.

Published March 2, 2007 3:43PM (EST)

On the day George W. Bush announced his plan to escalate the war in Iraq, a "senior administration official" told reporters: "What we're talking about is -- actually, it's two Marine battalions in Anbar, which comes to 4,000 troops, five Army brigades in Baghdad. Together, you total them up, it's somewhere in the 21,000-22,000" range.

There's a reason that briefings like this are conducted on background: When the information conveyed turns out to be not true, it's a little harder to identify the person who was doing the lying.

As we've noted previously, the Congressional Budget Office has said that a "surge" of 21,500 combat troops likely means that between 35,000 and 48,000 additional troops are headed for Iraq, once all the supporting personnel are factored in. The White House has said that the CBO is wrong. In an e-mail to Newsweek's Howard Fineman, Dan Bartlett said last month that the White House thinks there are already enough support troops in Iraq and that, in Fineman's words, "very few" more will be required to support the surge.

Maybe that's really what the White House thinks -- Tony Snow, after all, figures it's fine for the surging soldiers to get their desert training on the job in Iraq. But it's not how the military sees it, and it's not what's actually going to happen. As USA Today reports, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England told the Senate Budget Committee Thursday that 6,000 to 7,000 more U.S. troops will be needed in Iraq to support the 21,500-soldier "surge." Maybe that's "very few" to men like Bartlett, but we're betting that it seems like a lot to the 6,000 or 7,000 families who will see their loved ones packing off to war.

Even some Republicans on the budget committee seem to be having a hard time taking the administration's claims seriously anymore. Referring to the White House's claim that the escalation will cost $5.6 billion -- the CBO puts the price tag at about $20 billion -- Sen. Judd Gregg said Thursday that it's "obvious" that the administration's estimate is "not accurate."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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