DOD Comptroller: Fielding One Soldier In Afghanistan Costs Taxpayers $850,000

Mary Kaszynski
Afghanistan Study Group

Recent violence in Afghanistan has led to the deaths of six U.S. troops and politicians and pundits are insisting that U.S. troops stay longer.  But isn’t this a sign that the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan isn’t working?  Their solution is to leave twenty or thirty thousand troops behind—but how much will it cost?

Department of Defense Comptroller Robert Hale has the answer: deploying one U.S. solider to Afghanistan for one year costs $850,000. The number, which came up during a congressional hearing last week, caught many by surprise, since $850,000 is quite a jump from the Pentagon’s previous estimate of $600,000.

It’s not even clear that $850,000 is the right number. The Pentagon estimate may only account for military personnel, operations and maintenance costs. If we add in all war-related costs, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments estimated our per soldier cost at $1.2 million.  The Congressional Research Service estimates that operational costs rose 44% over seven years –  from $483,000 per troop in 2005 to $694,000 in 2011.

Whether the “real” cost is $1.2 million or $694,000, the point is clear: the cost of deploying a soldier to Afghanistan is exorbitant.  Just to put this in perspective, recall that the median household income in the U.S. is about $50,000 per year.  Using the smaller estimate, the cost of deploying one soldier to Afghanistan is more than 14 times what one American family makes in one year. No wonder we are in a budget crisis.

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