Don’t Forget Afghanistan

The Afghanistan war hasn’t played a major role in either of the presidential candidates’ campaigns. Whether the candidates believe voters aren’t interested, or whether they are simply avoiding a thorny foreign policy problem, here are the three big reasons why Afghanistan should not be forgotten:

The war isn’t over.
U.S. troops are still fighting and dying in Afghanistan. By the end of the summer, the rest of the surge troops will come home — leaving 68,000 U.S. troops still in Afghanistan. The U.S. death toll recently topped 2,000; more than half of those deaths occurred in the past three years.

Sustaining the war effort costs U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars each year. Since 2001 the U.S. has spent over $500 billion in direct war costs. (That doesn’t include costs hidden in the base Pentagon budget or future costs, like caring for veterans).

In 2012, one week in Afghanistan cost U.S. taxpayers about $2 billion. In 2013, (assuming Congress approves the 2013), the price of war will drop slightly, to $1.7 billion per week.

The plan for 2013 and beyond is still unclear.
Contrary to what many believe, the Afghanistan war isn’t ending in 2014. In fact, what happens next in Afghanistan is still very unclear.

The drawdown timeline is still to be determined. Will the 68,000 U.S. troops leave gradually in 2013 and 2014, or will the bulk of them stay, to be withdrawn quickly near the end of 2014?

In 2015 and beyond the picture is even more unclear. The U.S. has committed to withdrawing its combat troops by the end of 2014, but thousands of U.S. trainers, advisers, and special operations forces will stay behind.

War costs will continue.
Even after the U.S. withdraws combat troops in 2014, the Afghanistan war will continue to cost U.S. taxpayers billions each year. Experts estimate that sustaining thousands of U.S. trainers and special operations forces, plus the costs of maintaining the Afghan security forces, and contributing economic and humanitarian aid, could add up to about $30 billion per year.

U.S. policymakers can’t afford to ignore an issue that costs billions of taxpayer dollars each year. The presidential candidates should be taking the lead by debating how to end wasteful government spending, starting with the war in Afghanistan.

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