Afghan withdrawal not even close to halfway done
If you read only the news headlines, you missed the big Afghanistan story this week. The Associated Press headline reads: “US Afghan withdrawal halfway done.” The first paragraph clarifies that withdrawal planned for this summer is halfway done. That means that 23,000 U.S. troops will be home by fall. 68,000 will remain in Afghanistan.
In other words, by the end of the summer we’ll be back down to the same number of troops in Afghanistan that were stationed there when President Obama announced the surge in December 2009.
The administration has yet to announce the next steps in the Afghanistan drawdown. The NATO combat mission will end in 2014, but that doesn’t mean all of those 68,000 U.S. troops (plus 40,000 from NATO allies) will come home.
General John Allen, commander of the U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, has consistently emphasized that combat operations will continue right up through December 31, 2014. He has also noted that “we’re probably going to see some post-2014 military presence — some U.S. presence and a NATO presence.”
The two big unanswered questions are how many combat troops will be in Afghanistan on December 31, 2014, and how many non-combat troops will stay after January 1, 2015?
The answers will have serious economic consequences. If military leaders like Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti have their way, 68,000 troops will stay for the first part of of 2013, maybe longer. If policymakers like Sen. Lindsey Graham have their way, 20,000 troops may stay after 2014.
Maintaining this kind of presence in Afghanistan will only add to the already costly war. The Pentagon’s war budget request for 2013 is $88.5 billion. If Congress approves the request, war costs since will be close to $650 billion.
Maintaining troop levels after 2014 will be expensive. Sustaining 20,000 troops could cost $25 billion each year. Adding in security assistance and humanitarian and economic aid at about $8 billion per year (a conservative estimate given Afghanistan aid trends), and the Afghanistan war will continue to cost over $30 billion each year for years to come.
There are better uses for taxpayer dollars than an endless war in Afghanistan. American taxpayers certainly think so. A majority of Americans believes the war has not been worth the costs, according to a recent poll. We can only wonder why policymakers aren’t listening to the public and bringing U.S. troops — and tax dollars — home.