Al Qaeda Decimated, but US Considers Heavy Military Footprint in Afghanistan
Despite official U.S. assessments that al Qaeda leadership has been “decimated,” some experts are insisting that the U.S. maintain a heavy military footprint in Afghanistan — a strategy that will cost billions of dollars each year.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta recently addressed the success of U.S. efforts against al Qaeda, saying “al-Qaeda has been significantly weakened in Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Its most effective leaders are gone. Its command, and control have been degraded, and its safe haven is shrinking….we have decimated core al-Qaeda.”
The U.S. must still “finish the job” in Afghanistan, Secretary Panetta added, calling for continued commitment on both military and diplomatic fronts.
Of course, Sec. Panetta’s stance on the Afghanistan war is representative of the Pentagon establishment perspective, and therefore flawed. He says that the administration of sending an additional 33,000 troops to Afghanistan was a success. But the number of enemy attacks actually increased during years of the troop surge.
Similarly, Secretary Panetta insists that “we are at a turning point after 10 years of war.” But that’s what officials and experts have been saying about the war for years. But every year since 2002 has been a “turning point” in the Afghanistan war, according to officials and experts.
More disturbing than the Pentagon’s take on the war is the fact that some pundits still support a sustained military presence in Afghanistan. The latest defense of this flawed strategy is a Washington Post op-ed by Kimberly Kagan and Frederick W. Kagan.
The authors are known supporters of continuing the current strategy in Afghanistan, despite the mounting evidence that the strategy isn’t working. In this latest piece they call for keeping 68,000 troops in Afghanistan through 2014 and about 30,000 after 2014.
The authors don’t say how long these 30,000 will stay, but they compare the troop level to the number of U.S. troops stationed in Korea, perhaps a hint that they would like to see U.S. troops in Afghanistan for decades to come.
Interestingly, the authors are completely silent how much their plan for Afghanistan will cost. This should be a red flag for taxpayers.
The Kagans’ plan is essentially this: keeping tens of thousands of troops in Afghanistan has worked so well over the past ten years that we should continue the same strategy for the foreseeable future.
But not only has the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan failed, it has cost close to $600 billion. Continuing the current strategy will not strengthen U.S. national security; it will only add billions to the costs of the war.
Maintaining a military footprint on the scale envisioned by the Kagans would likely cost about $35 billion per year, based on expert estimates. That doesn’t include the billions of dollars for security and economic aid that the U.S. and allies have committed to Afghanistan over the next several years.
With a national debt of over $16 trillion, policymakers are debating the best way to cut back on government spending. In the midst of the fiscal crisis, spending billions on a war that most Americans want to end is a waste of taxpayer dollars.