1. Afghanistan Study Group: U.S., Afghanistan Counterinsurgency Efforts Founder

    Published: March 29th, 2013

    Secretary of State John Kerry’s trip to Afghanistan this week indicated an improvement in the U.S.-Afghanistan relationship. But tension between Pakistan and Afghanistan is rising, according to media reports. Developments on the ground in Afghanistan have raised questions about the strength of the insurgency and the capability of local security forces.

    From ASG
    Growing Support for Ending Afghanistan War
    Afghanistan Study Group by Mary Kaszynski

    Despite strong support for ending the war among the public, Congress has failed to act. Grappling with tough budget issues, policymakers have somehow forgotten the war that has already cost over $600 billion.

    Once-Touted Afghan Force Falls on Hard Times
    Wall Street Journal by Yaroslav Trofimov

    When villagers rose up against Taliban rule in Afghanistan’s Andar district last year, U.S. military commanders billed the surprise rebellion as a potential game-changer akin to the Sunni tribal awakening that helped the U.S. leave Iraq. Now, as the spring fighting season begins, it is increasingly clear that the Andar uprising didn’t live up to these hopes.

    Afghan insurgency will outlast withdrawal: US general
    Agence France-Presse

    The Taliban insurgency will continue after coalition combat forces withdraw from Afghanistan in late 2014 but the Afghan government will survive, the ex-chief of the NATO-led force said Monday.

    US faces $6bn bill to ship equipment home from Afghanistan
    The Guardian by Emma Graham-Harrison

    Fighting wars is expensive, but so is winding them down. As the US prepares to ship most of its weapons, vehicles and other equipment home after more than a decade in Afghanistan, the bill for the move will be a staggering $6bn, officers in charge of the complex process say.

    U.N. Investigates Report of Fraud at Kabul Office
    Wall Street Journal by Nathan Hodge

    The United Nations will review new allegations by international monitors of fraud at the Afghanistan office of the world body’s refugee agency, the top U.S. official in Kabul said on Wednesday.

    Have Americans Forgotten Afghanistan?
    The Atlantic by James Wright

    As the U.S. grapples with sequestration, the economy, and other policy battles, the war has fallen (even farther) from view.

    The Conditions for Staying in Afghanistan
    Bloomberg Editorial

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Afghan President Hamid Karzai had plenty to discuss Monday, when Kerry dropped by Kabul for an unannounced visit. Karzai has developed quite a knack for making Americans think twice about their involvement in his country. Here’s the message we hope Kerry delivered: The U.S. still wants to help — but with conditions.

  2. Growing Support for Ending Afghanistan War

    Published: March 29th, 2013

    Last week, Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) called for a swift end to the war in Afghanistan in a letter to the president.“We urge you to heed the wishes of the majority of Americans by bringing our sons and daughters home safely and swiftly, and, in doing so, ending America’s longest war,” the letter reads.

    These senators are part of a growing consensus in Congress that the costs of the war outweigh the benefits. Representatives Walter Jones (R-NC) and Bruce Braley (D-IA) recently introduced legislation to require a full cost analysis of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In December, Jones and Braley were joined by 94 members of Congress in calling for an accelerated drawdown.

    The trend in Congress mirrors the trend in the general public. Support for the war in Afghanistan has declined steadily over the past several years. Recent polling shows nearly 70 percent of Americans believe the U.S. should not be involved in Afghanistan. Considering costs versus benefits, 67 percent say the war has not been worth fighting.

    Despite strong support for ending the war among the public, Congress has failed to act. Grappling with tough budget issues, policymakers have somehow forgotten the war that has already cost over $600 billion. Experts say the indirect costs of Iraq and Afghanistan will last for decades and will total $4 to $6 trillion.

    If Congress is serious about addressing the budget problem, they need to look at how taxpayer dollars are being spent in Afghanistan. Ending the war and developing a better strategy for future engagement with Afghanistan will advance U.S. security interests, and our economic interests as well.

  3. Afghanistan Weekly Reader: Afghanistan Debates, Costs Continue

    Published: March 22nd, 2013

    U.S. and Afghan officials reached a deal over the presence of U.S. special operations forces in Afghanistan’s Wardak province this week, though other disputes continue. Senate Armed Services Chair Carl Levin criticized the slow pace of the drawdown planned by the administration, and the intelligence community’s assessment of progress in Afghanistan is at odds with the Pentagon’s portrayal of the war.

    From ASG
    Afghanistan War Costs to Continue for Decades

    Afghanistan Study Group by Mary Kaszynski

    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.

    Levin: Remove U.S. Troops From Afghanistan Faster

    Defense News by John T. Bennett

    The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., on Monday criticized President Barack Obama for opting to halt a “steady” removal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

    Cyclical nature of Afghan fighting may mask deeper trends, experts warn

    McClatchy by Jay Price

    For more than 11 years, U.S. and NATO troops have followed an odd annual rhythm, a pattern so obvious – whether measured in casualty figures or the number of insurgent attacks – that Pentagon officials, the soldiers on the ground and journalists alike casually refer to the annual “fighting season.”

    Kabul drivers endure 900 miles of bad roads

    Washington Post by Richard Leiby

    Although the United States and its international partners shoveled billions of dollars into Kabul’s coffers for 11 years, Shah Bobo Jan Street is unpaved — just one small stretch of more than 900 miles of city roads and alleys that remain largely dirt. That’s the equivalent of a straightaway running from Washington to Des Moines.

    US spy agencies more pessimistic on Afghan war


    The US military habitually issues positive assessments of its progress in pushing back the Taliban and building up Afghan forces, but an annual report to Congress from the intelligence community was downbeat.

    Spy Chiefs Point to a Much, Much Weaker Al-Qaida

    Wired by Spencer Ackerman

    Don’t ever expect the heads of the U.S.’ 16-agency spy apparatus to say it outright. But the testimony they provided Tuesday morning to a Senate panel described al-Qaida, the scourge of the U.S. for 12 years, as a threat that’s on the verge of becoming a spent force, if they’re not already.

    Iraq’s lessons are there for the heeding

    Washington Post by Walter Pincus

    What many forget is that Iraq and Afghanistan also mark the first U.S. wars in which a president, first Bush and now President Obama, has not sought a war tax. The result: nearly $2 trillion in war expenditures put on the nation’s credit card.

    U.S. should speed Afghan pullout

    Baltimore Sun Letter to the Editor

    Mr. President, may I strongly suggest that you accelerate your 2014 plans for evacuating our troops from Afghanistan and the surrounding areas which would provide for us Americans to happily witness our U.S.-led military coalition begin bringing home most of our 100,000 troops and tens of billions of dollars in equipment which would finally end this horrible 12-year-old war.

  4. Afghanistan War Costs to Continue for Decades

    Published: March 22nd, 2013

    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.

  5. Afghanistan Weekly Reader: Hagel Trip Highlights Afghanistan Woes

    Published: March 14th, 2013

    Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s trip to Afghanistan was marred by insurgent attacks and the cancellation of a joint press conference due to an unspecified security threat in Afghanistan’s capital city. Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s insistent claim of collusion between the U.S. and the Taliban is causing a controversy, and some U.S. lawmakers are reportedly considering a faster drawdown.

    From ASG
    Afghanistan Reconstruction and Lessons Not Learned from Iraq
    Afghanistan Study Group by Mary Kaszynski

    The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, counterpart to the Iraq aid watchdog, continues to document examples of wasteful projects. SIGAR’s work generates sensational headlines and calls for reform. But reform has not happened.

    Karzai ‘Histrionics’ Endanger U.S. Support in Congress

    Bloomberg by Laura Litvan

    Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s accusation that the U.S. is colluding with the Taliban may add to pressure from Congress for a faster U.S. troop withdrawal than President Barack Obama plans, lawmakers said.

    Afghanistan again tops list of illegal drug producers

    Washington Times by Guy Taylor

    Afghanistan remains by far the world’s top producer of illegal opium poppy used to make heroin, according to the State Department’s annual report on global trends in the illicit narcotics trade, which also pinpoints Bolivia, Burma and Venezuela for having “failed demonstrably” to uphold international counternarcotics agreements.

    Angry Afghan Villagers Want US Special Forces Out

    Associated Press by Kathy Gannon

    An Afghan policeman gunned down two U.S. special forces on Monday in Wardak province, less than 24 hours after President Hamid Karzai’s deadline expired for them to leave the area where residents have grown increasingly hostile toward the Americans.

    How Would Thomas Jefferson Solve the Fiscal Crisis?

    Some founding fathers were no strangers to the sort of fiscal woes that Congress, under increasing pressure to solve the ever-worsening financial crisis, faces today. Thomas Jefferson, elected in 1800, inherited $83 million dollars worth of federal debt. His plan to get the fledgling United States out of the hole? Government spending cuts!

    US in Afghanistan: Why throw more good money after bad?

    Christian Science Monitor by Dan Murphy

    The news today of two more US soldiers killed by an Afghan soldier armed and trained with American resources is a reminder that the US war there has gone off the rails.

    With aid to Afghanistan, past performance is a predictor of future returns

    Christian Science Monitor by Dan Murphy

    In Afghanistan, it’s not so much that the US is failing to learn from history. It’s that it also seems to be failing to learn from the present. During the past decade of war there, billions of dollars of US spending have been stolen, squandered, or have simply disappeared into well-intentioned projects that were inappropriate for Afghan needs.

  6. Afghanistan Reconstruction and Lessons Not Learned from Iraq

    Published: March 12th, 2013

    The U.S. government watchdog that oversees reconstruction efforts in Iraq closed its doors last week. The final report from the Special Inspector for Iraq Reconstruction has a damning conclusion: the U.S has little to show for the $60 billion spent on aid in Iraq over the past ten years.

    The fact that billions of taxpayer dollars were wasted in Iraq has implications for Afghanistan reconstruction. Like in Iraq, billions have been spent on unnecessary and unsustainable reconstruction projects in Afghanistan over the past ten years.

    The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, counterpart to the Iraq aid watchdog, continues to document examples of wasteful projects. SIGAR’s work generates sensational headlines and calls for reform. But reform has not happened. The mistakes made in Iraq and Afghanistan will be repeated, unless the U.S. takes a new approach.

    The U.S. has appropriated nearly $90 billion for Afghanistan reconstruction since 2002. SIGAR has conducted hundreds of investigations (268 still ongoing) into Afghanistan aid projects. SIGAR investigations often uncover widespread waste and fraud.

    In 2012, for example, SIGAR found evidence of a $17.7 million police facility that may be unsustainable, $12.8 million in electrical equipment sitting unused, and $6.83 million unnecessarily paid to maintain Afghan police vehicles.

    The total amount of taxpayer dollars wasted in Afghanistan is unclear, but the many small, wasteful projects adds up quickly. The Commission on Wartime Contracting estimates that at least $31 billion and as much as $60 billion was lost to contracting fraud and abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan. One independent analyst, a former SIGAR investigator, estimates that 70 percent of aid is spent on overhead costs and 15 percent is lost, stolen, or misappropriated. Only 15 percent (and sometimes less) makes it to the intended recipient.

    Pouring billions of dollars into Afghanistan failed to build capable security forces, effective government, and a stable economy. It also “badly distorted the economy and the people’s expectations.”

    Even after U.S. combat troops are withdrawn by the end of 2014, the U.S. will remain engaged with Afghanistan. Unfortunately, we don’t have a plan to ensure our engagement is effective. The amount of aid the U.S. spends will decline, but that simply means waste will happen on a smaller scale. Reducing spending isn’t enough. Ensuring taxpayer dollars are well spent means developing a new strategy for U.S. policy towards Afghanistan.

  7. Afghanistan Weekly Reader: General Calls for 20,000 Troops to Stay in Afghanistan

    Published: March 7th, 2013

    With post-2014 troop levels still undecided, the top American commander in Afghanistan recommends a force of 20,000, including 13,600 U.S. troops. Also this week, USAID’s decision to abandon a $266 million construction project is cited as the latest example of ineffective aid. 

    From ASG
    Afghanistan War Distracting From Real Security Issues
    Afghanistan Study Group by Mary Kaszynski

    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.

    General Says 20,000 Troops Should Stay in Afghanistan
    New York Times by Thom Shanker

    The American commander in the Middle East said on Tuesday that he had recommended that 13,600 United States troops remain in Afghanistan after the combat mission ends in 2014, a number slightly higher than the one being considered by NATO and Pentagon officials.

    $100 Billion in Aid Squandered in Afghanistan
    The Fiscal Times by David Francis

    The decision by the United States Agency for International Development to scrap the completion of a dam project meant to supply electricity to Kandahar, the spiritual home of the Taliban in Afghanistan, is the latest and perhaps largest failure of the United States to use development dollars to create stability by building Afghan infrastructure

    NATO Chief Backs Larger Afghan Force Through 2018
    Associated Press

    Afghanistan’s president got reassurance Tuesday that NATO intends to backstop his troubled nation’s security long beyond 2014, after NATO’s chief endorsed keeping Afghanistan’s security forces at the current strength for years to come.

    Taliban Attack Trends: Never Mind
    Associated Press

    The U.S.-led military command in Afghanistan will no longer count and publish the number of Taliban attacks, a statistical measure that it once touted as a gauge of U.S. and allied success but now dismisses as flawed.

    Failing to Understand Afghanistan
    Foreign Policy by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn

    The West has developed better technology for countering roadside bombs, improved methods in combat surgery, and — most famously — honed the art of drone warfare. But it still does not understand how to interact with and shape the futures of countries where it sends its troops and money

    Trying to do the impossible
    Foreign Policy by Rory Stewart

    The problem was not that the West didn’t do it right — the problem was that it tried the surge at all. A light presence of the sort it had in 2003 was justifiable and constructive. But given the structures, the attitudes, the incentives, and the ambitions of the NATO soldiers, politicians, and civilians on the one hand, and the nature of Afghan culture and society on the other, the more ambitious Afghanistan mission was doomed to fail.

  8. Afghanistan War Distracting from Real Security Issues

    Published: March 6th, 2013

    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.

  9. Afghanistan Weekly Reader: Reported Drop in Taliban Attacks Proves Incorrect

    Published: February 28th, 2013

    The International Security Assistance Force is correcting a data error that showed a 7 percent drop in Taliban attacks over the past year. The number of attacks did not decline, officials said. The announcement coincides with an insurgent attack that left 17 dead and an ongoing dispute over U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

    From ASG
    Cut Wasteful Pentagon Spending, Starting with the War Budget

    Afghanistan Study Group by Mary Kaszynski

    Eliminating wasteful spending in the war budget and developing a more cost-effective strategy for our future engagement with Afghanistan is a good way to start reining in the Pentagon budget.

    Taliban attacks in Afghanistan not down after all

    Christian Science Monitor by Dan Murphy

    On Tuesday, NATO said there was no decline in Taliban attacks, the final year of President Obama’s “surge” in Afghanistan, after all.

    Talk of Inquiry, but Not Much Is Sure After Afghan Ban on U.S. Troops

    New York Times by Matthew Rosenberg

    A day after President Hamid Karzai ordered elite American forces out of a strategic province near the capital, very little was clear other than his increasing assertiveness in dictating the Western military role in Afghanistan.

    Afghan officials say NATO ignored complaints of abuses by U.S. Special Operations forces

    Washington Post by Richard Leiby

    Afghan officials said Monday they demanded the pullout of U.S. Special Operations forces from an insurgency-wracked province because the U.S.-backed NATO command here for months has ignored residents’ allegations of severe abuses committed by the elite American troops and armed Afghan irregulars working with them.

    How Not to Withdraw from Afghanistan

    Foreign Policy by Jim McDermott and Lawrence Wilkerson

    Eleven years of costly war have confirmed that there is no military solution in Afghanistan. As one U.S. commander in Afghanistan retires and another takes his place, it’s time to focus on a political and economic transition to Afghan rule. It’s time to finally bring U.S. troops home.

    Involving the Taliban in Afghanistan Solution

    The Atlantic by William R. Polk

    Over time: Afghanistan can evolve into a relatively peaceful society in which citizens will have a chance for a considerably improved standard of living and, in the context of Afghan cultural norms, will come to share an acceptable form of participatory democracy.

  10. Cut Wasteful Pentagon Spending, Starting with the War Budget

    Published: February 26th, 2013

    The announcement that half of the U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan will come home in the next year has been met with some criticism. Kimberly and Fred Kagan, noted proponents of extending the Afghanistan war, argue that the pace of the drawdown is too fast and dismiss the potential for budget savings.

    The cost of a slower drawdown is “budget dust in the context of overall defense spending, let alone the national debt, the deficit, or any major social program,” the Kagans write.

    “It doesn’t cost much compared to other things” is a poor defense for the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. That strategy cost more than $600 billion over the past eleven years. And it will continue to cost billions each year even after U.S. combat troops leave at the end of 2014.

    The U.S. is expected to spend about $2 billion per year on economic and development aid to Afghanistan for the next several years. Supporting the Afghan security forces is expected to cost several billion per year, declining to $2.3 billion in 2017 and beyond.  The cost of sustaining a military presence in Afghanistan could cost an estimated $6 billion to $20 billion, depending on the troop level chosen by policymakers.

    The U.S. and allies are reportedly considering a light military footprint for Afghanistan after 2014. Even if the U.S. opts for lower troop levels, that does not mean the strategy is sound. Continuing the same strategy that wasted billions of dollars over the past eleven years will only allow the inefficiencies to continue on a smaller scale. Whether it is $40 million or $40 billion, wasting taxpayer dollars is unacceptable.

    The Kagans’ flippant approach allowed the war budget to spiral out of control. This same thinking is behind the bloated Pentagon budget. Today, the Pentagon budget — the base budget, not including additional costs for the war — has almost doubled since 2001.

    Eliminating wasteful spending in the war budget and developing a more cost-effective strategy for our future engagement with Afghanistan is a good way to start reining in the Pentagon budget. But it is just a first step. We need to reevaluate our broader defense strategy too, setting priorities and applying same scrutiny to the war budget and the non-war budget.

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