Afghanistan War Costs to Continue for Decades
U.S. combat troops are scheduled to leave Afghanistan in 2014, but for U.S. taxpayers, the war won’t be over. Even after the troops come home, war costs will continue.
One of the big drivers of future war costs is medical and disability benefits for war veterans. These costs will continue for decades. According to new analysis by the Associated Press, the U.S. is still making payments to care for the veterans of the Spanish-American War from 1898, World War I and II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War.
Caring for the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan over the next several decades could total $754 billion, according to analysis by the Costs of War project.
Veterans benefits are not the only costs that will continue after the war ends. Interest payments on amount borrowed to pay for the war could total $1 trillion by 2023.
Some future war costs, like caring for veterans, cannot be changed. But some costs are policy-driven, and there we do have a choice. Developing a more effective Afghanistan policy will save taxpayer dollars and advance our national security interests.
One of the big questions about the future of U.S. engagement in Afghanistan is the number of troops that will remain to train and advise local security forces after 2014. Some have called for as many as 30,000 troops. Military leaders have recommended 10,000 troops, while the administration is rumored to prefer lower levels.
The troop level that decisionmakers set will determine whether the U.S. spends several billion or tens of billions each year to maintain a military presence in Afghanistan. Overreliance on the military hasn’t worked, which means we need a new approach.
This means a fundamental overhaul of the U.S. strategy for Afghanistan, from the role of the military post-2014 to our plan for security and economic assistance. Billions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted on the war in Afghanistan; only a better strategy will ensure we don’t waste billions more.