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.
Published: February 11th, 2013
Half of Afghanistan’s population paid at least one bribe to public officials over the past year, for a total of $3.9 billion, according to a recent UN report on corruption. $3.9 billion is twice Afghanistan’s domestic revenue, and one quarter the amount international donors have pledged in civilian aid to Afghanistan over the next four years.
The findings highlight ongoing concerns over the effectiveness of U.S. reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. Over the past eleven years, the U.S. has allocated close to $90 billion for Afghanistan aid, including over $20 billion for governance and economic development.
The effectiveness of U.S. aid to Afghanistan has long been questioned. On the security side, the U.S. has appropriated over $50 billion to train and equip Afghan forces since 2002. Yet according to a Pentagon assessment, only one of the Afghan National Army’s 23 brigades is capable of operating independently.
The story is similar on economic and development aid. According to one estimate, 70 percent of aid to Afghanistan goes to overhead costs, 15 percent goes to the intended recipient, and 15 percent is “lost, stolen or misappropriated.”
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the U.S. government watchdog that oversees efforts in Afghanistan, wrote in 2010,
“The majority of U.S. assistance to Afghanistan has been provided without the benefit of such a strategy [to combat corruption]. While the Afghan government has established a number of anti-corruption institutions, they lack independence, audit authority, and capacity. U.S. anti-corruption efforts in Afghanistan have provided relatively little assistance to some key Afghan oversight institutions.”
International donors have tied future funding to improvement on humanitarian and anticorruption efforts. The Afghanistan government remains publicly committed to reducing fraud and abuse, but progress seems uncertain.
For example, according to the UN report, the number of bribes in Afghanistan decreased by 9 percent since 2009. But the total amount paid in bribes increased by 40 percent.
Similarly, a recent SIGAR report found that Afghan officials are stonewalling U.S. efforts to track the flow of cash out of the Kabul airport. An estimated $4.5 billion was carried out of Afghanistan in 2011, raising fears of money laundering and cash smuggling.
Although the U.S. has committed to withdrawing combat troops by the end of 2014, continued support for Afghanistan’s security forces and efforts to build economic stability and governance will likely cost billions of dollars each year. Without a new strategy for our efforts in Afghanistan, billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars could be lost through waste and corruption.
Published: January 31st, 2013
General John Allen, the outgoing commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, recommended maintaining a substantial military presence in Afghanistan through the summer, according to a Wall Street Journal interview. The White House has yet to announce a plan for the drawdown of the 68,000 troops still in Afghanistan. Also undecided is the number of troops that will remain after 2014 for training, advising, and counterterrorism operations.
Afghanistan War Takes A Toll On The U.S. Economy
Afghanistan Study Group by Mary Kaszynski
Is it too late to address the effect the Afghanistan war will have on the U.S. economy? Maybe, there are certainly some steps we can take. The first one is ending the war and developing a new strategy for more effective (and less costly) engagement with Afghanistan.
General Seeks Sustained Afghan Role
Wall Street Journal by Maria Abi-Habib
The commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan said he has recommended that the White House maintain a substantial U.S. military presence through the summer fighting season, giving new details about commanders’ preferences as President Barack Obama weighs the pace of withdrawal.
US blacklists Afghan airline accused of smuggling opium
Afghanistan’s largest private airline, Kam Air, has been barred from receiving US military contracts amid allegations of drug smuggling, officials say.
No US peace dividend after Afghanistan
Financial Times by Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes
Nearly 12 years after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan began, a war-weary America is getting ready to leave. But there will be little in the way of a peace dividend for the US economy once the fighting stops.
Money Pit: The Monstrous Failure of US Aid to Afghanistan
World Affairs Journal by Joel Brinkley
The total amount of nonmilitary funds Washington has appropriated since 2002 “is approximately $100 billion”—more than the US has ever spent to rebuild a country. That estimate came out in July. Since then, Congress has appropriated another $16.5 billion for “reconstruction.” And all of that has not bought the United States or the Afghans a single sustainable institution or program.
How We Fight: Fred Kaplan’s ‘Insurgents,’ on David Petraeus
New York Times by Thanassius Cambanis
The counterinsurgency cult was more than a fad, Kaplan establishes. But it was much less than a revolution.
Counting Down to 2014 in Afghanistan
Huffington Post by Ann Jones
Compromise, conflict, or collapse: ask an Afghan what to expect in 2014 and you’re likely to get a scenario that falls under one of those three headings.
Published: January 28th, 2013
“The true cost of the [Afghanistan] war is only just beginning,” Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes recently wrote in Financial Times. “Indeed, the costs after withdrawal may exceed those during the war. Choices made in the past decade mean high costs for years to come – and will constrain other national security spending.”
Stiglitz, recipient of the 2001 Nobel Prize in economics, and Bilmes, a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, are no strangers to the concept of hidden and delayed war costs. In 2008 they authored a groundbreaking study showing that the Iraq war, officially counted at $800 billion, would likely cost on the order of $3 trillion.
The same thing will happen in Afghanistan, the authors of The Three Trillion Dollar War write. The direct cost of the war has already topped $600 billion. Ongoing military operations will bring that total to at least $700 billion through 2014.
Even after U.S. forces transition from a combat to a training and advising role, the financial burden of the war will continue. Stiglitz and Bilmes highlight some of the big costs, like caring for the veterans of the Afghanistan war (total estimated cost: $1 trillion); supporting the Afghan security forces ($5 billion to $8 billion per year).
U.S. aid to Afghanistan is also sure to be a significant issue. Congress has already appropriated close to $90 billion — over $50 billion for security assistance and close to $40 billion for economic and humanitarian reconstruction. Despite this significant investment, the Afghan security forces remain largely incapable of operating independently of U.S. and allied trainers. Meanwhile, billions of aid dollars have been wasted on unneeded and unsustainable projects, or simply lost to fraud and corruption.
Congress is taking small steps to increase transparency and accountability in U.S. aid to Afghanistan. But it may be too little too late.
“In all of their nation’s history, Afghans have never seen such wealth or experienced such beneficence as the West is providing now,” writes Pulitzer prize winner Joel Brinkley. “But instead of creating a model program of nation building, all of that has badly distorted the economy and the people’s expectations.”
In Afghanistan, the U.S. strategy has created an aid bubble and made little sustainable progress on the security front. In the U.S., the war has been a drag on the economy, driving up the projected national debt.
“The legacy of poor decision-making from the expensive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will live on in a continued drain on our economy – long after the last troop returns to American soil,” Stiglitz and Bilmes conclude.
Is it too late to address the effect the Afghanistan war will have on the U.S. economy? Maybe, there are certainly some steps we can take. The first one is ending the Afghanistan war and developing a new strategy for more effective (and less costly) engagement with Afghanistan. Another essential step is reining in government spending (and the out-of-control defense budget in particular). These won’t be easy steps, but they are crucial if we want to get our fiscal house in order.
Published: January 22nd, 2013
The U.S. has provided some 30,000 vehicles to the Afghan National Police (ANP). Since the ANP cannot afford maintenance costs, and likely will not be able to do so for several years, the U.S. has been picking up the tab. But we may not be getting what we think we’re paying for.
According to a new audit by the U.S. Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the U.S. spent $6.8 million on maintenance for vehicles that had not been seen in over a year, had never been seen, or had been destroyed.
The problem, the report concludes, was that the U.S. command that awarded the contract did not adjust the terms to reflect the number of police vehicles requiring maintenance.
$6.8 million is small fraction of the billions the U.S. has spent in Afghanistan. Since 2002, Congress has allocated over $50 billion to train and equip the Afghan security forces.
Still, $6.8 million is not an insignificant amount, especially when the U.S. is looking for ways to cut back on unnecessary spending. Across the country budget cuts are hitting local police forces hard. Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to spend billions on Afghanistan aid projects — $28 million per day, according to the Inspector General.
Some policymakers are starting to call for more transparency and oversight in Afghanistan aid. And we are making some progress. For example, the U.S. agency that oversaw this particular boondoggle has already made changes, updating its tracking system and removing over 7,000 vehicles that should not have been on the maintenance list. The Inspector General estimates that this improvement will save U.S. taxpayers $5.5 million per year.
It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough. Eliminating a few unnecessary and unsustainable programs will yield some savings, but the problems will continue until the U.S. develops a new strategy for Afghanistan that links long-term strategic goals with smart budget choices.
Published: January 18th, 2013
Last week’s announcement that U.S. and allied forces will transition more quickly from a combat role to training and advising left many of the big questions on next steps unanswered. Afghan president Hamid Karzai said negotiations on immunity for U.S. troops are ongoing, with a decision expected this year. The immunity question is a factor in whether U.S. forces remain in Afghanistan after 2014.
$28 Million Per Day for Afghanistan Reconstruction
Afghanistan Study Group by Mary Kaszynski
Regardless of the final decision on troop levels, the U.S. financial commitment to Afghanistan will likely continue. Unfortunately, over the past eleven years “commitment” meant a steady stream of money but no effective strategy for spending it.
Military Hasn’t Pursued Afghan ‘Zero Option’
Wall Street Journal by Stephen Fidler
U.S. and NATO commanders have been asked to provide advice on what could be achieved with U.S. and allied troop numbers at various levels—but nothing on a complete drawdown, the officer said.
Afghans want withdrawal of village police trainers
Washington Post by Kevin Sieff
Days after Afghan President Hamid Karzai and President Obama seemed to agree on the future role of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, a division has emerged over one of the American military’s most prized defense programs.
Decision on immunity for U.S. troops by year-end: Karzai
Reuters by Hamid Shalizi
A decision on immunity for U.S. troops staying in Afghanistan after the 2014 planned withdrawal will be made by the end of the year, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Monday.
US pushes to finish Afghan dam as challenges mount
AP by Heidi Vogt
In the approaching twilight of its war in Afghanistan, the U.S. is forging ahead with a giant infrastructure project long criticized as too costly in both blood and money.
Afghanistan in 2015
LA Times Editorial
[If] the U.S. is still able to mount an effective counter-terrorism effort without many boots on the ground, the light footprint strategy should be implemented.
The Afghan pullout picks up
SF Gate Editorial
A costly war is coming to a close, just as the far larger Iraq conflict did. In Afghanistan’s case, the future remains uncertain and worrisome.
Published: January 9th, 2013
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is in Washington this week for a meeting with President Obama that could determine the size of the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan after 2014. The meeting comes one week after Pentagon leaders presented options for post-2014 troop levels ranging from 6,000 to 20,000. In the U.S., support for reducing the large, costly military presence is growing, as policymakers and the public question the wisdom of spending billions on the war.
$7 Billion for Each Month of War in Afghanistan
Afghanistan Study Group by Mary Kaszynski
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.
U.S. Is Open to Withdraw Afghan Force After 2014
New York Times by Mark Landler and Michael R. Gordon
On the eve of a visit by President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, the Obama administration said Tuesday that it was open to a so-called zero option that would involve leaving no American troops in Afghanistan after 2014, when the NATO combat mission there comes to an end.
A ‘Zero Option’ for Afghanistan
Foreign Policy by David W. Barno
Whether U.S. troops ultimately stay or leave Afghanistan after 2014 may now come down to just one week of tough bargaining. Each nation has a great deal at stake.
The open question of Afghanistan
Washington Post by Walter Pincus
President Obama this week has a chance to explain to President Hamid Karzai, and hopefully to the American people, what will be our future role in Afghanistan…as the U.S. financial belt is being tightened, people want to know the financial cost, for how long and what will be accomplished.
Some in administration push for only a few thousand U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014
Washington Post by Ernesto Londoño and Rajiv Chandrasekaran
As the debate over the size and scope of the post-2014 coalition mission nears its end, some in the administration are pressing for a force that could be as small as 2,500, arguing that a light touch would be the most constructive way to cap the costly, unpopular war.
Choices on Afghanistan
New York Times Editorial
If Mr. Obama cannot find a way to go to zero troops, he should approve only the minimum number needed, of mostly Special Operations commandos, to hunt down insurgents and serve as a deterrent against the Taliban retaking Kabul and Al Qaeda re-establishing a safe haven in Afghanistan.
The Cost of a Post-2014 U.S. Force
TIME by Douglas A. Ollivant
Those promoting the extension of current force levels in Afghanistan talk about justification for these troops remaining here, here and here, but elide over the costs. And $60-ish billion is real money, even by DOD or Federal budget standards.
Published: December 13th, 2012
Two U.S. government reports released this week paint a grim picture of security and anti-corruption efforts in Afghanistan. An investigation by the U.S. agency that oversees Afghanistan reconstruction found that Afghan officials are resisting efforts to track the billions of dollars in cash flown out of Afghanistan each year. Meanwhile, a Pentagon report determined that only one of the Afghan Army’s 23 brigades can operate without assistance from U.S. and allied troops. Congress has allocated over $50 billion in security aid to Afghanistan since 2001.
Growing Momentum for Ending the War in Afghanistan
Afghanistan Study Group by Mary Kaszynski
The momentum in Congress for ending the war is a good first step toward a more effective strategy in Afghanistan, and a better plan for spending taxpayer dollars.
Despite U.S. aid, little progress in monitoring Kabul airport cash flow
Reuters by Susan Cornwell
Afghan officials are stonewalling U.S. efforts to help regulate the billions of dollars in cash being flown out of Kabul airport every year, a U.S. watchdog said in a report on Tuesday.
Pentagon Says Afghan Forces Still Need Assistance
New York Times by Elisabeth Bumiller
As President Obama considers how quickly to withdraw the remaining 68,000 American troops in Afghanistan and turn over the war to Afghan security forces, a bleak new Pentagon report has found that only one of the Afghan National Army’s 23 brigades is able to operate independently without air or other military support from the United States and NATO partners.
Taliban Popular Where U.S. Fought Biggest Battle
AP by Kathy Gannon
Nearly three years after U.S.-led forces launched the biggest operation of the war to clear insurgents, foster economic growth and set a model for the rest of Afghanistan, angry residents of Helmand province say they are too afraid to go out after dark because of marauding bands of thieves.
Panetta Visits Afghanistan to Discuss Troop Levels
New York Times by Thom Shanker
The president has made no decision, and a range of options are being prepared, officials said. The American counterterrorism force might number fewer than 1,000, part of an American military mission that would probably total no more than 10,000 troops, despite the desire of some officers for a larger force.
How Pentagon Employees Are Picking America’s Pocket – In Afghanistan
Politico’s The Arena by Michael Shank
We cannot forget, amid fiscal cliff fecklessness, that as taxpayers of this debt-funded fight we are sending nearly $10 billion every month to Afghanistan for the war (aka deconstruction) and post-war reconstruction efforts. Last year alone, American taxpayers accumulated well over $113.9 billion worth of debt so that this war could continue.
In Afghanistan, fewer resources can be better
Washington Post Letter to the Editor by Adam Cohen
That the United States has neither the interest nor the funds for a large-footprint approach to diplomacy and development in Afghanistan need not be cause for alarm. Fewer resources do not necessarily spell disaster, and they might make such outreach more effective.
Published: December 10th, 2012
It’s no secret that public support for the war in Afghanistan is fading. According to a recent opinion poll, 66 percent think the costs of the war outweigh the benefits — up from 41 percent five years ago. 60 percent of Americans support withdrawing troops as soon as possible, according to an October Pew poll.
A new part of the debate over U.S. policy in Afghanistan is the growing support in Congress for ending the war.
Last week, the Senate approved an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act calling for an accelerated drawdown in Afghanistan. While the measure is nonbinding, it is a clear sign that Congress may be catching up to the public.
The Senate also passed a measure to improve oversight of wartime contracting. The amendment implements the recommendations of the Commission on Wartime Contracting, which determined that as much as $60 billion has been lost due to contract waste and fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Momentum for changing the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is growing in the House too. Some former supporters of the war have recently spoken out in support of ending the war. Over 90 representatives, led by Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Congressman Walter Jones (R-NC), arguing that “there can be no military solution in Afghanistan.”
“We are writing to urge you [the president] to pursue a strategy in Afghanistan that best serves the interests of the American people and our brave troops on the ground.,” the letter reads. “That strategy is simple: an accelerated withdrawal to bring to an end the decade-long war as soon as can safely and responsibly be accomplished.”
Of course, despite the growing bipartisan consensus for a new strategy in Afghanistan, there are still some who support continuing the current strategy. The administration has committed to withdrawing the 68,000 combat troops over the next two years. Some administration officials are reportedly considering keeping about 10,000 troops to support ongoing counterterrorism operations.
Still others have called for keeping 30,000 troops in the country, a move that would cost over $30 billion each year.
The U.S. has already spent close to $600 billion and over ten years in Afghanistan — a clear sign that the current strategy isn’t working. Spending billions more to sustain a large military presence is not only unnecessary, it is fiscally irresponsible. The momentum in Congress for ending the war is a good first step toward a more effective strategy in Afghanistan, and a better plan for spending taxpayer dollars.
Published: December 5th, 2012
The U.S Senate approved a non-binding resolution calling for an accelerated transition to local security forces Afghanistan, withdrawing U.S combat forces earlier than the planned 2014 deadline. Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said ongoing counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan will require an “enduring presence” post-2014.
The Outpost: No Strategic Purpose for U.S. Efforts in Afghanistan
Afghanistan Study Group by Mary Kaszynski
The story of Combat Outpost Keating is perhaps one of the most tragic of the Afghanistan war. The U.S. camp was located in a remote area of Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border, at the base of three mountains – a nearly indefensible position – defend the position, at great expense by U.S. forces, for over three years.
Majority in U.S. Senate Support Accelerated Afghanistan Transition Pace
Defense News by John Bennett
In a bipartisan vote of 62-33, the upper chamber approved what’s called a “sense of Congress” measure offered by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., that formally stamps Senate approval on an “accelerated transition of United States combat and military and security operations to the government of Afghanistan,” according to a Senate summary of the provision.
Panetta: Post-2014 Afghan Effort To Be Substantial
The U.S. intends to wage a counterterrorism campaign inside Afghanistan even after the main U.S. combat force leaves in 2014 in order to prevent al-Qaida from fulfilling its ambition to re-establish a sanctuary there, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday.
New commander faces challenge of winding down Afghanistan war
Reuters by David Alexander
Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, who takes over as head of international forces in Afghanistan next year, faces the challenge of winding down a war in a country where he has little experience using a strategy he did not devise.
Differing Afghan, U.S. priorities could sabotage proposed security agreement
Washington Post by Pamela Constable and Craig Whitlock
When the two sides meet again this month for more substantive discussions, each will begin to lay out a competing set of military concerns, political constraints and legal priorities that could severely test their fledgling postwar partnership, possibly to the point of failure.
How to fight in Afghanistan with fewer U.S. troops
Washington Post by David Barno and Matthew Irvine
Protecting these [vital national security] interests after 2014 will require the United States to be able to launch precision military strikes from this region. But it will not require tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
The Pace of Leaving Afghanistan
New York Times Editorial
[The drawdown] should start now and should not take more than a year. We strongly supported the war in Afghanistan following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but after more than a decade of fighting and a cost upward of $500 billion it is time for a safe and orderly departure.