1. Growing Momentum for Ending the War in Afghanistan

    Published: December 10th, 2012

    U.S. Marines board a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft flight from Camp Manas, Krygzstan, to Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, March 24, 2010

    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.

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  2. Policymakers Ignoring Public Opinion on Afghanistan War

    Published: August 14th, 2012

    Washington Post editor Jackson Diehl’s op-ed “Obama and Romney are ignoring the Afghanistan war” made quite a splash.

    “Here’s some news that both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney would like you to ignore: Tens of thousands of American soldiers are at war this summer in Afghanistan,” Diehl wrote, concluding that both presidential candidates find talking about the war “uncomfortable and politically unprofitable.”

    The candidates silence on the Afghanistan war shows how out of touch they and other policymakers are with the American public. Americans have strong opinions on Afghanistan, and the latest polls show it.

    According to a July poll by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, two-thirds of Americans believe the war in Afghanistan has not been worth the costs.

    Support for the war has declined steadily over the past several years. Five years ago, over half of poll respondents said the war has been worth fighting, compared to only one in three this year.

    The belief that the costs of the war outweigh the benefits is stronger among Democrats and Independents, but a majority of Republicans (58%) agree, according to the Chicago Council poll.

    There’s more behind the decline in public support than war-weariness. Americans aren’t tired simply because the war has been long; they’re tired of spending billions of dollars on a war that no longer advances vital U.S. security interests.

    Counting only direct war costs, the U.S. has spent over $550 billion on the Afghanistan war since 2001. The effect on the economy has been devastating. “For more than a decade now, we’ve waged war as if it were free,” writes The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, “keeping our wars off the budget and, rather than paying for them as they were fought, slapping them on the national credit card.”

    Increasing the federal debt has an effect on every American. Take interest rates, for example. According to Brown University and the Watson Institute’s’ Costs of War Project, the average homebuyer had to make $600 more in mortgage payments because war borrowing has driven up interest rates.

    This year, every week of war in Afghanistan costs American taxpayers $2 billion. War costs are going down, but not fast enough. Policymakers should take their cue from the public and work to end wasteful war spending.

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  3. Afghanistan Weekly Reader: Policymakers Silent on $500 Billion War

    Published: August 9th, 2012

    The Afghanistan Parliament voted this weekend to dismiss the Ministers of Defense and the Interior. The implications of the political shakeup are still unclear. U.S. officials insist the transition to local security forces will proceed as planned, but the Afghan President is reportedly “scrambling to find a replacement” for the defense minister, who officially resigned Tuesday. The Afghanistan war is in the U.S. spotlight as many Americans are starting to question policymakers’ silence on a war that has cost over $500 billion.

    From ASG
    Pentagon Lowers the Standard for Afghan Forces

    Afghanistan Study Group by Mary Kaszynski

    After ten years and more than $50 billion in security aid the U.S. is no closer to success in combating corruption and developing stable local security forces. Worse, the Pentagon may be trying to cover up the failure.

    Afghan defense minister quits, hands Karzai a security headache

    Reuters by Mirwais Harooni and Abdul Aziz Ibrahimi

    Karzai faced constraints in finding a replacement who could maintain ethnic harmony in his inner circle, while also needing to win over lawmakers whose backing he needs to deliver a corruption crackdown promised to Western donors.

    UN: Afghan Civilian Deaths Down but Trend Eroding

    Associated Press by Heidi Vogt

    Afghan civilian deaths dropped 22 percent in the first six months of 2012 compared with a year ago, but the number of civilians killed in targeted assassinations surged, the United Nations said in a report released Wednesday.

    Obama and Romney are ignoring the Afghanistan war

    Washington Post by Jackson Diehl

    Here’s some news that both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney would like you to ignore: Tens of thousands of American soldiers are at war this summer in Afghanistan.

    War waste problems not yet resolved

    Reporter-Herald Editorial

    On the to-do list for whoever wins the presidential election in November should be a concentrated effort with Congress to improve the accountability of U.S. government spending in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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  4. Congress Silent on Ending the Afghanistan War

    Published: June 5th, 2012

    In poll after poll the American public has said the Afghanistan war is not worth the costs. They have called for removing U.S. troops as soon as possible. They have supported cutting war costs by an average of 43%.

    Where do policymakers stand on this issue? It’s hard to say. Unlike their constituents, who have spoken so strongly in favor of ending the war, many elected officials are silent.

    There are notable exceptions. Representatives Timothy Johnson (R-IL), Barbara Lee (D-CA), and Walter Jones (R-NC) have led the way in calling for an end to the Afghanistan war. Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Jim Webb (D-VA) have introduced legislation to implement the oversight reforms recommended by the Commission on Wartime Contracting, which found that as much as $60 billion has been lost to contract waste and fraud in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    Unfortunately, these legislators are in the minority. Other members of Congress consistently overlook Afghanistan, even working actively to extend the war. In their version of the 2013 National Defense Authorization bill, the House voted to sustain the war, voting down an amendment that would limit funds to the “safe and orderly withdrawal of U.S. troops and military contractors from Afghanistan.” Another amendment to accelerate the drawdown didn’t even make it to a vote; the House Rules Committee refused to allow it to be debated.

    While House members try to extend the war, some Senators are simply ignoring it. Political scientist Jonathan Bernstein notes that of the 16 Republican candidates likely to win Senate seats, 15 do not even mention the war on their campaign sites.

    The Afghanistan war likely will not be a driving issue this election season. But it should be. The war has cost over $500 billion over the past ten years, and will cost close to $100 billion in the 2013 alone. Americans believe there are better uses for taxpayer dollars. Some members of Congress may disagree, but rather than debate the issue, they are sweeping it under the rug. By quietly supporting the status quo, policymakers are spending billions on the war without justifying their strategy to the taxpayers who are underwriting it.

    The Afghanistan war is too big, and too costly, to be ignored. The American public understands this. It’s time for fiscal conservatives to show they understand it too.

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  5. Majority of Americans Believe the War Is Not Worth the Costs

    Published: April 17th, 2012

    The Taliban launched a series of attacks yesterday on embassies and the Afghan Parliament in Kabul. The offensive is reportedly “among the most audacious coordinated terrorist attacks here in recent years,” yet US officials say they are determined to stay the course. The American public is less confident, however.

    In fact, public support for the war in Afghanistan is at an all-time low. According to a recent Washington Post poll, 66% of respondents say the war has not been worth the costs, compared to only 30% who say it has. This represents a significant change from 2007, when 56% said the war has been worth fighting, and 41% said the opposite.

    The downward trend is especially interesting because war costs have actually started to decrease. U.S. casualties, on the rise since 2005, dropped 18% over the last year. The Department of Defense request for next year’s war costs, $88.5 billion, is a 26% decrease from last year.

    Still, we are spending too much in Afghanistan, and getting too little for it. The American public knows this. After spending over half a trillion dollars to win hearts and minds in Afghanistan, 62% of Americans say most Afghans oppose what the U.S. is trying to do in Afghanistan.

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  6. Afghanistan Weekly Reader: $33 Billion for Afghanistan Aid

    Published: March 22nd, 2012

    Recent events in Afghanistan have made the American public, and many members of Congress as well, wonder if it isn’t time for a new strategy. The administration however, is sticking with the plan, and negotiations with Afghanistan over the U.S. presence after 2014 are ongoing.

    Whatever the strategic agreement between the two countries ends up looking like, the U.S. will certainly continue to have a relationship with Afghanistan. And that means an ongoing financial commitment.

    Since 2002, the U.S. has spent $33 billion on governance improvement, economic development, and humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. Whether that money has been spent effectively is debatable. What’s not debatable is that we need a better strategy going forward—and better oversight and accountability for how U.S. taxpayer dollars are spent.

    From ASG
    Steady Decline In Public Support For The War
    Afghanistan Study Group by Mary Kaszynski

    A recent ABC/Washington Post poll highlighted that public support for the war in Afghanistan is flagging. The release of the poll around the same time as the killing of 16 Afghan civilians may seem coincidental. However, decrese support for the war is not just a knee-jerk reaction to recent events. In fact, Americans’ support for the war in Afghanistan has declined steadily over time.

    $12 Million Per Day Lost On Wartime Contracting
    Afghanistan Study Group by Mary Kaszynski

    Despite dwindling public support, the war in Afghanistan continues. Billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars are wasted at a time when Congress is considering cuts to other vital programs. Another $12,000,000 per week for Afghanistan contracting is fiscally irresponsible.

    U.S. General Sees No Sudden Afghan Drawdown
    New York Times by Thom Shanker and John Cushman

    The top allied commander in Afghanistan told Congress on Tuesday that he would not be recommending further American troop reductions until late this year, after the departure of the current “surge” forces and the end of the summer fighting season.

    U.S. on track for Afghan deal by NATO summit: Clinton

    The United States said on Wednesday it appears to be on track to sign a strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan charting their future relations during or before a late May NATO summit.

    A Plan C for Afghanistan
    LA Times By Doyle McManus

    Plan A — turning Afghanistan into a smoothly functioning democracy — didn’t work. Plan B — handing the war over to an Afghan army with U.S. advisors, is under siege. Reassessing a major foreign policy effort in the middle of an election year won’t be a welcome idea for a president seeking to project an image of calm and steady leadership. But election year or not, it’s time to come up with Plan C.

    Afghanistan and the Long War
    Stratfor by George Friedman

    To continue with the long war with the forces available puts in motion processes that threaten the republic without securing U.S. interests. Leaving aside the threat to the republic, a force at its limits and left to fight a war on the margins of national consciousness will not be effective.

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  7. 2010 average American weekly income: $1,200. Weekly war costs: $1,800,000,000

    Published: January 31st, 2012

    Mary Kaszynski
    Afghanistan Study Group

    Public support for the Afghanistan war is at an all-time low. According to the most recent PEW poll, a majority of Americans (56%) want to bring the troops home as soon as possible. Only 38%  want to maintain troop levels “until the situation has stabilized”.

    When the poll was conducted back in June 2011, the numbers were virtually the same. A year earlier, however, the outlook was very different – 53% wanted to keep troops in Afghanistan, while 40% wanted to remove them. Going back even further, we see that support for the war has declined steadily decline over time.

    Americans now see that the few benefits of the war in Afghanistan are not worth the enormous costs. At a time when many American families are struggling, the amount of money spent on the war in Afghanistan doesn’t make sense.

    Consider these numbers. In 2010 the average American household income was about $1,200 per week. That same year the US spent $1,800,000,000 per week on the Afghanistan war. Household food costs average about $120 per week. In 2010 we spent $520,000 per week on food aid to Afghanistan. The average American student graduating from college in 2010 had over $25,000 in loans. That year the US spent $11.6 billion to train and equip some 300,000 Afghan security forces – that’s $38,000 per troop.

    Over the past ten years we have spent over $500 billion in direct war costs alone. Well spent or not, we cannot get it back. What we can do is consider seriously what we should spend going forward. In a couple of weeks the administration will request $88 billion for next year’s war costs. Aren’t there better uses for taxpayer dollars?

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  8. Tracing the Afghanistan and Iraq drawdown debate; Politicians and Public Divided

    Published: September 22nd, 2011
    Author: Mary Kaszynski

    Mary Kaszynski
    Afghanistan Study Group Blogger

    In the heated debates surrounding the drawdown in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s sometimes difficult to keep track of who stands where. The past week was no exception.

    Rick Perry kicked off an inter-party dispute during the GOP debate, when he seemed to side with Jon Huntsman in calling for a withdrawal from Afghanistan. ”I think the entire conversation about how do we deliver our aid to those countries, and is it best spent with 100,000 military who have the target on their back in Afghanistan. I don’t think so at this particular point in time,” Perry said. “I think the best way for us to be able to impact that country is to make a transition to where that country’s military is going to be taking care of their people, bring our young men and women home.”

    Perry later clarified his position (“a precipitous withdrawal is not what he’s recommending”) but Huntsman has stuck to his guns. “We need to send a clear message to the world that we understand the asymmetrical threat we face and will respond with counter terror forces, intelligence gathering, and a limited number of troops to train Afghan forces,” his foreign policy advisor said. “This does not require 100,000 boots on the ground in Afghanistan. We need to bring those troops home.”

    Huntsman’s (and Perry’s) views don’t sit well with other Republicans. Senator Lindsay Graham, a consistent and vocal supporter of maintaining a strong presence in both countries, confessed to being “disappointed” with calls for a drawdown.

    Former Vice President Dick Cheney feels the same. In a CNN interview, Cheney argued that “both Afghanistan and Iraq are extraordinarily important,” and warned against a leaving too soon: “And I think that would be tragic if in fact it led to a resumption of the kinds of problems that both those nations faced when we went in.”

    Given Graham’s  consistent support for the wars, and Cheney’s involvement in the them, their position on the drawdown is hardly surprising. But it’s also out of step with what the American public wants.

    A quick glance at the comments on the Cheney article shows how the argument for staying in Afghanistan completely misses the mark for most readers. “‘both Afghanistan and Iraq are extraordinarily important’ Why??” One asked. “”When you recognize you are in a quagmire with no end, it is time to make an end,” another said.

    This is far from a public opinion poll, but it certainly tallies with recent polls. 58% of respondents in a Quinnipiac University Poll agreed that the US should not be involved in Afghanistan right now. In this poll from Pew, 56% said that US troops should be brought home as soon as possible. And 59% said that the US has accomplished its mission and should bring its troops home, according to this Gallup poll.

    Perry’s first statement was probably more in line with what the majority of Americans wants. Maybe he should have stuck with that it.

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  9. Pew Poll Deflates the Post’s Overblown Headline

    Published: June 8th, 2011
    Author: Will Keola Thomas

    Will Keola Thomas – Afghanistan Study Group

    Just one day after The Washington Post tripped over its own poll numbers and fell face-first into some sloppy conclusions (see the article: “Support for Afghan war rises, poll shows”), the Pew Research Center released polling data that seemed to rub the Post’s nose in the mess it had made.

    The Post’s headline ignores the fact that a majority of Americans continue to believe that the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting. It also buries the real story told by its poll: 73% of Americans think the U.S. should withdraw combat forces from Afghanistan this summer.

    The Pew Research Center’s poll adds an additional storyline:

    “Far more Americans say that the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has contributed a great deal to the nation’s debt than say that about increased domestic spending or the tax cuts enacted over the past decade.

    Six-in-ten (60%) say the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has contributed a great deal to the size of the debt.”

    The survey also asked respondents about their support for reducing overseas military commitments as a deficit cutting measure. 67% of all respondents (including 56% of Republicans and 71% of Independents) would support the proposal.

    The Washington Post claims that its poll figures provide President Obama with “more political breathing room.” The Pew poll shows that public support for the decade-long war in Afghanistan has run out of air.

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  10. The Washington Post Is Confused (The American Public Is Not)

    Published: June 8th, 2011
    Author: Will Keola Thomas

    Will Keola Thomas – Afghanistan Study Group

    From an article in Monday’s Washington Post titled “Support for Afghan war rises, poll shows”:

    “The number of Americans who say the war in Afghanistan is worth fighting has increased for the first time since President Obama announced at the end of 2009 that he would boost troop levels, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

    The finding may give Obama slightly more political breathing room as he decides how many troops to withdraw from Afghanistan in July, the deadline he set 18 months ago to begin bringing home the additional U.S. forces.”

    What happened?

    Did President Karzai make a binding pledge to end the culture of impunity among Afghanistan’s elite and root out corruption in his government (and family) once and for all? Did Pakistan decide that it wasn’t really in their interest to provide militant extremists with a safe haven in its backyard? Are we winning?

    Why would Americans, whose support for the fight in Afghanistan has declined precipitously over the last few years in response to the war’s skyrocketing cost in dollars and lives, all-of-a-sudden decide that the enormous price tag is worth it?

    Oh, wait. They didn’t.

    From the poll:

    “22. All in all, considering the costs to the United States versus the benefits to the United States, do you think the war in Afghanistan has been worth fighting, or not?

    Worth fighting: 43%

    Not worth fighting: 54%”

    Apparently the editors at the Washington Post scrapped the more appropriate title for an article summarizing the poll, “Majority of Americans Think the War in Afghanistan Isn’t Worth The Cost,” because, well, it’s old news.

    And since the poll was taken post-Osama, it makes some sense that a portion of the public would think that the war has (past-tense) been worth it. 9/11 has been avenged, it took us ten years but we got our man, etc…

    But in their attempt to squeeze an eye-catching headline out of a poll that confirms what has been clear for a long time, the Post’s editors missed the real story: an overwhelming majority of Americans want a substantial number of troops brought home this summer.

    “Do you think the United States should or should not withdraw a substantial number of U.S. combat forces from Afghanistan this summer?

    Should: 73%

    Should not: 23%”

    There shouldn’t be anything confusing about those numbers. They haven’t changed since the last ABC/WaPo poll was taken in March.

    Alas, the Washington Post’s editors aren’t the only ones who are confused about the will of the American public. Senator John McCain, former presidential candidate, has called on Pres. Obama to withdraw no more than 3,000 troops in July. He told the Financial Times, “I would hope that it is very small,” in response to a question on the proposed drawdown.

    With 73% of Americans demanding a substantial drawdown in July, the number of presidential hopefuls who follow McCain’s advice should be very, very small.

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