Cost of air conditioning in US wars: $20 billion

Or 40 times the annual federal funding of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting

Published June 27, 2011 3:50PM (EDT)


War critics in Congress would be foolish not to seize on the assertion from Gen. David Petraeus' former chief logistician that the annual cost of air conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan is over $20 billion:

"When you consider the cost to deliver the fuel to some of the most isolated places in the world — escorting, command and control, medevac support — when you throw all that infrastructure in, we're talking over $20 billion," Steven Anderson tells weekends on All Things Considered guest host Rachel Martin. Anderson is a retired brigadier general who served as Gen. David Patreaus' chief logistician in Iraq. ...

To power an air conditioner at a remote outpost in land-locked Afghanistan, a gallon of fuel has to be shipped into Karachi, Pakistan, then driven 800 miles over 18 days to Afghanistan on roads that are sometimes little more than "improved goat trails," Anderson says. "And you've got risks that are associated with moving the fuel almost every mile of the way."

Like the $600 toilet seat, this is the sort of statistic that people remember.

Anderson's methodology for reaching the figure is not entirely clear; for example it's possible that he's using the entire overhead cost of the fuel supply line in his calculations, which would produce an inflated figure. (If I'm able to reach him to detail his calculations, I will update this post.)

As NPR notes, the cost of air conditioning for Iraq and Afghanistan is more than the annual budget of NASA. How much is it in the context of other budget items in the news recently? $20.2 billion is ...

  • 40 times the federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting last year
  • 55 times the annual government funding of Planned Parenthood
  • 20 times what the Libya conflict is projected to cost by the end of September

UPDATE: Anderson sends along a note about his methodology:

The short answer to your question is that my calculations are based on the Fully Burdened Cost of Fuel (FBCF), which includes overhead such as route clearance, road maint, security/escorts, command and control, medevac, etc. My conservative number is the fully burdened fuel costs are $30/gallon for Afghanistan, $18/gallon for Iraq (much better transportation network). When I was the senior staff logistician in Iraq from Aug 06 - Nov 07, DLA-Energy estimated the FBCF as $13.44/gallon, by the way.  Deloitte studied issue in Nov 09 and wrote fully burdened cost is $45/gallon when ground transport exceeds 950 miles (see attached report). In consideration of the fact that most fuel is transported from US to Karachi, then driven over perhaps the most mountainous and challenging roads in the world to one of the two US/NATO Afghan log bases (Kandahar and Bagram), then downloaded to strategic storage, then uploaded to other trucks and moved to the actual requirement (usually in excess of 950 miles total) in hundreds of [Forward Operating Bases] throughout Afghanistan, one can see that my estimate is indeed quite conservative. I low-balled it so that folks don’t think I’m cooking the books somehow.

However, any fully burdened fuel cost will NOT pick up the cost in blood.

That Deloitte report -- which features a stunning image of a fuel truck convoy in the mountains of Afghanistan -- is here (.pdf). 

By Justin Elliott

Justin Elliott is a reporter for ProPublica. You can follow him on Twitter @ElliottJustin

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