$300 Million Taxpayer Dollars for a Broken Power Plant
The deaths of 16 Afghan civilians at the hands of a US soldier raised a number of questions about the psychological effects of war on the men and women of our armed forces, and whether the military is doing enough to care for them. The tragedy also points to a more fundamental problem: after more than ten years of war, the US forces are worn out.
It didn’t have to be this way. We could have employed a smarter, more efficient strategy, relying on intelligence assets and special operations forces, like Seal Team Six. Instead, the US pursued a strategy of dedicated nation-building. The burden for executing that strategy fell on a small percentage of deployable troops. According to the Defense Business Board, 30% of active duty troops have deployed two or more times, while 40% have never deployed.
Nation-building requires significant investments. It eats up decades, dollars, and lives, and gives little in return.
The nation-building experiment in Afghanistan has been a disaster for armed forces, and a fiscal disaster as well. Military spending has grown out of control. For Afghanistan alone, war costs total more than $550 billion since 2001. In that same time frame the base defense budget grew almost $700 billion over the pre-war plan.
The decade of war was an excuse to pour money into the Department of Defense. But there was no incentive to spend wisely. Overhead costs ballooned, totaling at least $200 billion in 2010, according to the Defense Business Board. While costs for new programs like the F-35 soared, funds for vital programs like the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, designed to protects troops from IEDs, were delayed. Billions of dollars were invested in unsustainable Afghanistan reconstruction projects—like the $300 million Kabul Power Plant that is seldom used because the government cannot afford to operate and maintain it.
Boondoggles like the Kabul Power Plant are a sign of where the U.S. strategy Afghanistan went wrong. Surely we could have used those funds for United States infrastructure projects.