War Costs, Part 2: The War That Won’t End
Note: This is the second in a three-part series on the economic costs of the war in Afghanistan. Part one can be found here. Part three is forthcoming.
The War That Won’t End
After eleven years of war in Afghanistan, the U.S. is planning to withdraw its combat troops by the end of 2014 — two years from now. But even after combat operations end, the U.S. policy towards Afghanistan war will continue to cost taxpayers billions each year.
Afghanistan has become the forgotten war. It has been largely ignored by both presidential candidates. If you listened only to what policymakers are saying about Afghanistan, you might think the war was already over.
But 68,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Afghanistan today. To sustain the war effort in 2013, the Pentagon has requested over $80 billion. War costs will decline by a lot or a little in 2014 depending on the pace of the drawdown. Still, going by the trend for the past decades of wars, we can expect costs for the next two years to push the total cost of the war in Afghanistan close to $700 billion.
But the costs of U.S. operations in Afghanistan won’t end in 2014. While the U.S. maintains that it will not seek permanent military bases in Afghanistan, some policymakers have called for leaving a sizeable military force – up to 20,000 troops – in Afghanistan after 2014. Experts estimate that maintaining military presence on this scale could cost $25 billion per year.
In addition to the possibility of supporting a continued U.S. military presence, the U.S. will likely continue to spend billions on Afghanistan aid each year. Congress has allocated $50 billion in security aid to Afghanistan over the past 10 years. U.S. officials have said its future contribution for Afghan security aid will be around $2 billion per year.
The Afghan security forces will likely be dependent on foreign donors for quite some time, as the International Monetary Fund estimates that Afghanistan’s economy will not be able to sustain the country’s security operations until 2023.
In addition to the ongoing costs of operations in Afghanistan, the war has led to indirect costs that will continue for decades. Studies show that caring for the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan could cost $600 billion to $1 trillion over the next forty years.
The financial cost of Afghanistan war have already taken a toll on the U.S. economy, and it will continue to do so unless we realign our Afghanistan strategy with U.S. national security interests. A reevaluation of the U.S. policy towards Afghanistan will save billions and support a more effective national security strategy.