overseas contingency operations
Published: March 12th, 2012
Last December, Defense Secretary Panetta said the Afghanistan war was at a turning point and theAmerican people agree.
It’s no wonder that the public is war-weary. Ten years of war and over $500 billion dollars, and we have little to show for it. And yet the costs of war continue. Pentagon officials say that the cost of deploying one solider to Afghanistan for one year is $850,000 and rising. Looking ahead, budget gimmicks and the lack of restraint in government spending may keep the war budget high for years to come.
DOD Comptroller: Fielding One Soldier In Afghanistan Costs Taxpayers $850,000
Afghanistan Study Group by Mary Kaszynski
Recent violence in Afghanistan has led to the deaths of six U.S. troops. Despite this clear sign that the U.S. strategy isn’t working, politicians and pundits are insisting that the war is still “winnable.” Their solution is to leave twenty or thirty thousand troops behind—but how much will it cost?
US commanders: No plan to cede Afghan war to CIA
U.S. military commanders said Wednesday there are no plans to turn the Afghan war over to CIA control after 2014, with special operations answering to American intelligence officials.
Leave Afghanistan now
Washington Examiner by Cal Thomas
Can Afghanistan be stabilized so as not to pose a threat to America and American interests? Probably not, if the surge forces pull out on schedule and America continues to fight under restrictive and self-imposed rules of war while the enemy does not…If our troops are coming out anyway and if the administration can’t define victory, or commit the resources necessary to achieve it, waiting longer only ensures more casualties.
How to Pay for Wars
The National Interest by Benjamin Friedman and Charles Knight
Done right, spending caps would improve national decision making about war. Because American wars have broadly distributed and often obscured costs, the public and Congress have little incentive to carefully consider their consequences. Leaving aside the volunteer military, the only cost of war for most Americans is marginally higher taxes. And deficits subsidize war costs, diluting their effects on current voters.
Published: February 14th, 2012
The president’s budget plan for fiscal year 2013, unveiled yesterday, includes $96.7 billion for war funding ($88.5 billion for the Department of Defense and $8.2 for State – see page 89 of the budget). The Afghanistan war accounts for almost all of the request – $88.9 billion.
While the numbers themselves are interesting (interestingly high, that is), even more significant is the administration’s proposal to establish a cap on the war funds account:
Leaving OCO [overseas contingency operations, or war costs] funding unconstrained could allow future Administrations and Congresses to use it as a convenient vehicle to evade the fiscal discipline that the BCA [Budget Control Act of 2011] caps require elsewhere in the Budget. With the end of our military presence in Iraq, and as troops continue to draw down in Afghanistan, this Budget proposes a binding cap on OCO spending as well. From 2013 through 2021, the Budget limits OCO appropriations to $450 billion. [Emphasis added. See page 26 of the president’s budget.]
Before diving into the implications of the proposed cap, a couple of notes. First, the debt deal left a loophole for war costs, and that that loophole must be closed if policymakers are serious about getting nation’s fiscal house in order. Second, this is a cap, not a request. So $450 billion over the next nine years is a maximum; costs may not get that high.
These caveats aside, take another look at the cap itself. The proposal would limit war costs to $450 over the next nine years, an average of $50 billion per year. That might seem like a good deal, until you remember that we have spent $570 billion on the Afghanistan war since 2001. Assuming most of the proposed $450 billion would be for Afghanistan, that would bring the cost of the war to over $1 trillion.
Remember too that the Pentagon has announced plans to transition to local security forces by mid-2013. If the US combat role ends in 2013, what could possibly account for $450 billion in war costs through 2021?
A couple of explanations come to mind. First, the drawdown plan for 2013 and beyond is still unclear. US troops’ combat role may be ending, but who knows how long the training mission will last, and how many troops will be left in Afghanistan to see it through. Estimates range from 5,000 to 30,000, according to Afghanistan’s former deputy interior minister.
The second explanation isn’t much better. Troop levels alone are unlikely to account for $450 billion, meaning there will still be plenty of room for shady budgeting. Federal budgeters intend to keep doing what they’ve been doing all along, hiding non-war costs in the war budget. This has happened before – in 2012 alone some $7 billion was moved from the base defense budget to the war account. And it’s likely to happen again, with a cap as high as $450 billion.
Capping war costs is a good step towards fiscal responsibility in the defense budget. But this cap still leaves plenty of room for unnecessary spending. More serious efforts to restrain spending are necessary.
Published: January 17th, 2012
Afghanistan Study Group
The president’s budget request for fiscal year 2013, starting October 1 of this year, will be released next week. Bloomberg reports the request is expected to include $83 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The final number for Defense Department war costs in fiscal year 2012 is projected to be $115 billion, so $83 billion doesn’t look too bad by comparison – that’s a decrease of $32 billion, or 28%. $83 billion is still a lot of money, however, especially when money is tight. So it’s worth taking a closer look.
What’s immediately clear that there’s something funny with this number. In its most recent scenario for the drawdown timeline, the Congressional Budget Office estimated $83 billion for fiscal year 2013, the same as the expected request. CBO’s estimate, however, was based on an assumed troop level of 100,000 in 2013. The president’s plan is to bring back the rest of the 30,000 “surge” troops in 2012, leaving about 68,000 at the beginning of 2013. (The timeline for 2013 and beyond is still unclear, though 2014 is still the official deadline for the transition to local security forces).
So, to recap: CBO says 100,000 troops in 2013. The administration says 68,000 at the beginning of 2013, and something lower than that by the end. Both say this will cost $83 billion.
What explains the discrepancy? The Congressional Research Service’s latest report Amy Belasco offers a couple of explanations.
First, the way CBO makes these estimates cannot take into account policy decisions, like the decision about how much to contribute to the Afghan National Security forces. (This particular example doesn’t explain why the administration estimate is higher, since the US is planning to cut back on aid to the Afghan security forces).
A second explanation is in the different ways in which CBO and DOD develop these estimates. CBO bases its estimate on previous cost trends. DOD, on the other hand, uses “a model to estimate the costs of deploying specific types of units in each service.” CRS notes that “It does not appear that DOD uses per previous annual per troop costs as a general check of the validity of its model.” The end result is that CBO’s estimates are usually much lower than the request for the same number of troops.
Finally, the CRS report concludes with a fascinating line: “There is some evidence in recently reported obligations that DOD’s war requests may be overstated.” CRS has documented and discussed at length the differences between DOD requests and CBO estimates (see, for example, pages 20-24 of this report). But the bottom line is this: DOD consistently requests more for war costs than CBO estimates, and there is no entirely satisfactory reason.
The 2013 request is unlikely to be an exception to this trend. $83 billion may not seem like a lot compared to last year, but it is still too much. The war is supposed to be wrapping up and the troops coming home. The Defense Department is making some tough choices about where to cut back. Why aren’t they cutting back war costs?