Libya Price Tag for U.S.: $550 Million So Far, Members of Congress Express Frustration

Administration says Gadhafi's air defenses destroyed, Congress still wary.

ByABC News
March 31, 2011, 10:31 AM

March 31, 2011— -- The intervention in Libya has cost the United States $550 million through Monday, and going forward, it will cost an estimated $40 million a month as the United States reduces its role, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said today.

The expense, for now, is coming out of the Defense budget, but Gates said he would eventually like the cost to be included in the next fiscal year's overseas contingency operations bill, which Congress has yet to pass. Gates said doing so would not require raising the top line amount for that funding bill.

The number is slightly lower than the $600 million figure provided by the Pentagon earlier this week.

Obama administration officials today continued to tout coalition efforts and the need for intervention, saying they have successfully degraded Col. Moammar Gadhafi's defense capabilities but not to the point where he can be broken.

"The removal of Col. Gadhafi will likely be achieved over time through political and economic measures, and by his own people," Gates told members of Congress today. "However, this NATO-led operation can degrade Gadhafi's military capacity to the point where he -- and those around him -- will be forced into a very different set of choices and behaviors in the future."

But with millions of dollars being poured into the conflict, members of Congress on both sides of the political aisle have grown increasingly agitated about the mission and endgame in Libya, which has cost the United States millions of dollars.

"It all seems extremely open-ended to me," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

Others fear the successes that coalition forces have achieved in the two weeks since the strikes began will be averted because of the lack of U.S. leadership.

"The U.S. military will no longer be flying strike sorties against Gadhafi's ground forces," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who supports the offensive. "I believe this is a profound mistake with potentially disastrous consequences."

NATO has taken over the day-to-day operations, and the United States will continue to provide some capabilities, such as "electronic attack, aerial refueling, lift, search and rescue, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support," Gates said.

But the endgame is unclear, and rebels in Libya seem to be losing the momentum they have gained over the past week. Opposition forces have expressed frustration at the lack of airstrikes in cities where Gadhafi's forces quickly outnumber opposition forces.

"If these are not populated areas, what is?" Shamsiddin Abdulmolah, a frustrated opposition council spokesman, told ABC News. "People are wondering where the truth is. ... [Gadhafi forces] will demolish Adjdabiya and bring it down to the ground. If the coalition forces are just going to hang around and let that happen, what's the point of their presence at all? They're saying to Gadhafi go in and do your work."

In the meantime, it is getting increasingly challenging for coalition forces to distinguish rebels from Gadhafi's forces, who are now driving around in the same kind of armed pickup trucks as the opposition.

Rebels also lack a unified command structure and are plagued with problems over control.

Gates today admitted that anti-Gadhafi forces are a disparate group that had emerged spontaneously, rather than as an organized opposition force.

"It is very scattered, and probably each element has its own agenda," he said.

And while the goal of the coalition mission is to not remove Gadhafi from power, Gates said that would be the ideal outcome and that the administration had considered the possibility "of this being a stalemate and a drawn-out affair.

"Unless there's some king of significant change in behavior in terms of his own people, it's hard for me to imagine circumstances in which we would be content to tolerate a government that would have Gadhafi at its helm," he said.