Afghanistan War Distracting from Real Security Issues

The automatic budget cuts known as sequester went into effect last Friday. While it is still unclear how the cuts will be implemented, some defense programs are clearly at risk, and many federal workers face the possibility of furloughs.

For the war budget, however, the story is different. Pentagon officials say funding for the war in Afghanistan is a top priority and that they are “strictly protecting” war-related accounts from budget cuts.

This special treatment for the war budget shows how Afghanistan continues to divert resources from more important national security priorities.

The war has already cost over $600 billion. The final price tag will be much higher. Maintaining a large military presence in Afghanistan could cost tens of billions of dollars. Supporting the Afghan security forces will cost several billion each year. And the long-term costs of the war are even higher. Caring for the veterans of the war in Afghanistan, for example, is estimated to cost more than $1 trillion.

Spending on military operations particularly deserves a second look. The theory behind the troop surge — the additional 30,000 U.S. troops sent to Afghanistan in 2010 — was that more troops means less violence. In fact, the opposite happened. According to official figures, the number of insurgent attacks increased during the time additional troops were deployed to Afghanistan.

Sending more troops created more enemies. Yet some analysts continue to argue for a large, sustained military presence in Afghanistan, a move that will cost billions and fail to advance U.S. interests.

“The U.S. cannot afford a ‘whac-a-mole” strategy,’ Afghanistan Study Group Director Steve Clemons noted at a recent debate on the future of the U.S. Afghanistan strategy.

Overreliance on military force in Afghanistan has broader implications for U.S. foreign policy. Relying too much on the military, in Afghanistan and other areas, we run the risk of becoming overstretched. With so many resources invested on Afghanistan, we are unable to address security challenges in other areas.

As the budget debate continues, developing a more cost-effective Afghanistan strategy is a smart move. Instead of spending billions in Afghanistan, and seeing no results, we should be investing in our own economy and defense programs that advance our national security.

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