$7 Billion for Each Month of War in Afghanistan

U.S. Army Sgt. Brandon Barnett (right) from Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, United States Army Europe leads his team up a ridge line during a dismounted patrol near Forward Operation Base Lane, Zabul Province, Afghanistan, on Feb. 26, 2009.

The fiscal cliff was averted by a last-minute deal that included some tax increases and delayed across-the-board spending cuts. But policymakers again avoided a long-term strategy for reining in government spending.

The budget deal, which included $70 billion in tax breaks for special interest groups like NASCAR race track owners and Hollywood producers, is just one sign that wasteful spending will continue in Washington.

The $633 billion fiscal 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, also signed into law last week, is another example. The bill includes $88.5 billion for ongoing war operations, largely in Afghanistan.

Ending war in Afghanistan should be the first priority for policymakers looking to cut government spending. Instead, the war continues to escape oversight, costing billions of taxpayer dollars each month.

This year, each month in Afghanistan will cost over $7 billion, down slightly from last year’s cost of $9 billion per month.

Although war costs will decline as Afghan security forces take the lead in counterinsurgency operations, the U.S. will continue to spend billions in Afghanistan even after its combat troops are withdrawn by the end of 2014.

But the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan could be significant even after 2014. The lowest of the troop level options recently presented to the administration by Pentagon leaders was 6,000. The second option is for 10,000 troops; the third and highest is 20,000.

Some members of Congress have consistently advocated keeping 20,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Some pundits have gone even farther, arguing that vital U.S. interests require force of about 30,000 troops in Afghanistan indefinitely after 2014.

Few supporters of a large military presence in Afghanistan consider the financial costs of such a policy. Sustaining 20,000 troops could cost $20 billion each year.

The coming months will see many opportunities to develop a budget that eliminates wasteful programs. Policymakers need to take advantage of this opportunity now, rather than kicking the can down the road. Each month of delay means billions added to the national debt, billions of taxpayer dollars wasted, and billions spent on a war that most Americans no longer support.

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