After weeks of questions about the cost of the U.S. deployment of forces to the border, the Pentagon revealed late Tuesday that the barbed wire, transportation and housing for about 5,900 active-duty troops to date has cost $72 million.
To put it another way, that’s .01 percent of the Pentagon’s more than $700 billion budget, and roughly the price tag for one F/A-18E Super Hornet.
For critics, the $72 million represents an unnecessary expense for the military, which despite its higher 2019 defense budget, is still on an upward climb to heal readiness shortfalls and position itself for future wars. For others, the $72 million is a drop in the bucket compared with the daily operations costs for forces deployed in operations overseas.
The costs include the price to send troops home, Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Robert Manning said. Current orders have everyone home by Dec. 15, but that could change.
The total cost of the border mission will be an estimated $210 million under current plans, according to the Associated Press, which includes the 2,100 National Guard troops who have been performing a separate border mission since April. The $138 million figure for the Guard mission was included in a report sent to Congress obtained by the AP on Tuesday, but was not released by the Pentagon.
In the last few days, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the commander of the border operation, Army Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan have suggested that some troops may be able to return home soon. The Pentagon has also suggested that some of the troops now deployed in Texas may be reallocated to California, where the first wave of migrants has already arrived.
“The total cost of the operation has yet to be determined and will depend on the total size, duration, and scope of the DoD support to DHS," said Manning. "Based on the current phased force laydown of approximately 5,900 active component personnel through Dec. 15, 2018, the estimated cost to deploy, operate, sustain, and redeploy forces is approximately $72 million. This estimate includes only those DoD forces and support requested and approved as of 19 November 2018.”
Tara Copp is the Pentagon Bureau Chief for Military Times and author of the award-winning military nonfiction "The Warbird: Three Heroes. Two Wars. One Story."