Public opinion

  1. Afghanistan Weekly Reader: Growing Support for Drawdown

    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.

    From ASG
    $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.

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  2. 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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  3. Afghanistan Weekly Reader: Negotiating to Keep Troops in Afghanistan

    Published: October 19th, 2012

    Negotiations to extend the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan will begin soon, according to a State Department official. The U.S. combat mission is scheduled to end in 2014, but some troops may stay for counterterrorism operations and train and advise the Afghan security forces, the official said. The Secretary General of NATO, meanwhile, confirmed that allied forces are committed to the 2014 timeline, despite calls for an accelerated drawdown.

    From ASG
    The War That Won’t End

    Afghanistan Study Group by Mary Kaszynski

    But even after combat operations end, U.S. operations in Afghanistan will continue to cost taxpayers billions each year.

    State Department official: Negotiations to extend U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan starting soon
    Foreign Policy’s The Cable by Josh Rogin

    Despite statements by Vice President Joe Biden, the State Department is about to begin formal negotiations over the extension of U.S. troops past 2014, a top State Department official said Tuesday.

    US at a crossroads deep in an Afghan no-man’s land
    The LA Times by Ned Parker

    The daily fight right beyond the wire is bitter and unwelcome evidence of the stalemate that exists in southern and eastern Afghanistan.

    Hamid Karzai: Afghanistan ready if NATO accelerates its troop withdrawal plan
    The Hill’s DEFCON Hill by Jeremy Herb

    Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Thursday that his government would be ready and willing to take over security if the United States and NATO quickened their withdrawal plan.

    Time to Pack Up
    The New York Times Editorial Board

    It is time for United States forces to leave Afghanistan on a schedule dictated only by the security of the troops. It should not take more than a year. The United States will not achieve even President Obama’s narrowing goals, and prolonging the war will only do more harm.

    Afghanistan’s Fiscal Cliff
    Foreign Policy by Matthieu Aikins

    The future stability of the country has less to do with Afghan troop levels than it does with whether Afghan powerbrokers can forge a more stable, indigenous order after the international money dries up.

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  4. War Costs, Part 2: The War That Won’t End

    Published: October 19th, 2012

    Note: This is the second in a three-part series on the economic costs of the war in Afghanistan. Part one can be found here. Part three is forthcoming.

    Soldiers from the 65th Military Police Company secured the road out Stublina as units from the 82nd Engineer Battalion began their search in the early morning fog. March 15, 2000,

    The War That Won’t End

    After eleven years of war in Afghanistan, the U.S. is planning to withdraw its combat troops by the end of 2014 — two years from now. But even after combat operations end, the U.S. policy towards Afghanistan war will continue to cost taxpayers billions each year.

    Afghanistan has become the forgotten war. It has been largely ignored by both presidential candidates. If you listened only to what policymakers are saying about Afghanistan, you might think the war was already over.

    But 68,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Afghanistan today. To sustain the war effort in 2013, the Pentagon has requested over $80 billion. War costs will decline by a lot or a little in 2014  depending on the pace of the drawdown. Still, going by the trend for the past decades of wars, we can expect costs for the next two years to push the total cost of the war in Afghanistan close to $700 billion.

    But the costs of U.S. operations in Afghanistan won’t end in 2014. While the U.S. maintains that it will not seek permanent military bases in Afghanistan, some policymakers have called for leaving a sizeable military force – up to 20,000 troops – in Afghanistan after 2014. Experts estimate that maintaining military presence on this scale could cost $25 billion per year.

    In addition to the possibility of supporting a continued U.S. military presence, the U.S. will likely continue to spend billions on Afghanistan aid each year. Congress has allocated $50 billion in security aid to Afghanistan over the past 10 years. U.S. officials have said its future contribution for Afghan security aid will be around $2 billion per year.

    The Afghan security forces will likely be dependent on foreign donors for quite some time, as the International Monetary Fund estimates that Afghanistan’s economy will not be able to sustain the country’s security operations until 2023.

    In addition to the ongoing costs of operations in Afghanistan, the war has led to indirect costs that will continue for decades. Studies show that caring for the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan could cost $600 billion to $1 trillion over the next forty years.

    The financial cost of Afghanistan war have already taken a toll on the U.S. economy, and it will continue to do so unless we realign our Afghanistan strategy with U.S. national security interests. A reevaluation of the U.S. policy towards Afghanistan will save billions and support a more effective national security strategy.

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  5. Congressman calls for accelerated drawdown

    Published: September 25th, 2012

    U.S. soldiers and Marines detonate explosives near an enemy fighting position during combat operations near the Naghlu Reservoir in Afghanistan’s Kapisa province. August 2008

    Representative C.W.Bill Young (R-FL) is the latest member of Congress to call for a speedy end to the war in Afghanistan.

    “I think we should remove ourselves from Afghanistan as quickly as we can,” Rep. Young said in an interview with The Tampa Bay Times.

    The congressman, a self-described “stay-the-course politician,” had previously been a strong supporter of continuing the war. He attributes his call for an accelerated drawdown to an email from a soldier in Afghanistan.

    “I know the threat of casualties in war and am totally on board with sacrifice for my country, but what I do not agree with is the chain of command making us walk through — for lack of a better term — basically a minefield on a daily basis,” Staff Sergeant Matthew Sitton wrote in June, less than two months before he was killed by an improvised explosive device.

    The letter was a personal reminder for Rep. Young of the costs of the war in Afghanistan. The congressman says he believes many of his Republican colleagues support his new stance on ending the war, though “they tend not to want to go public.”

    In fact, a small but vocal group of lawmakers is working to speed up the Afghanistan drawdown. The bipartsan group includes Rep. Timothy Johnson (R-IL), Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA)”

    The legislators point to the ongoing costs of the war — about $2 billion per week — and continuing instability in Afghanistan as evidence that the war is not worth the costs.

    A majority of Americans agrees with this assessment of the war. According to a recent poll by the U.S. German Marshall Fund, 68% of American respondents favor either an immediate withdrawal or an immediate troop reduction.

    However, some key members of Congress still argue that a faster drawdown “would be the worst possible course of action.” Others have called for keeping 20,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014, the planned withdrawal date for combat troops.

    Experts say maintaining a military presence of this size in Afghanistan could cost $25 billion per year, an amount that the U.S., still recovering from an economic crisis, can ill afford.

    Still, with staunch supporters in Congress, it seems that the war in Afghanistan will continue — backed by precious American taxpayer dollars.

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  6. Afghanistan Weekly Reader: Americans Strongly Favor Ending the War

    Published: August 16th, 2012

    A series of bombings that left least 43 dead made Tuesday the deadliest day for Afghan civilians this year. As security concerns continue, the US and allies work to address the growing trend of “green on blue” attacks. Meanwhile, according to recent polls by ABC/The Washington Post and the New York Times/CBS, two in three Americans believes the war has not been worth fighting, and close to 70% says the U.S. should not be involved in Afghanistan. The American public, strongly in favor of ending the war, is starting to question the presidential candidates’ silence on Afghanistan policy.

    From ASG
    Policymakers Ignoring Public Opinion on Afghanistan War

    Afghanistan Study Group by Mary Kaszynski

    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.

    Leon Panetta: There’s a war going on

    Politico by Stephanie Gaskell and Philip Ewing

    Neither Mitt Romney nor Paul Ryan mentioned the war in Afghanistan during their big running mate roll-out in Virginia Saturday. Barack Obama gives it only a brief mention in his own stump speeches.
    Leon Panetta seems to have had enough.

    Have Obama and Romney Forgotten Afghanistan?

    The New Yorker by Dexter Filkins

    After eleven years, more than four-hundred billion dollars spent and two thousand Americans dead, this is what we’ve built: a deeply dysfunctional, predatory Afghan state that seems incapable of standing on its own – even when we’re there. What happens when we’re not? You can bet that, whoever the President is, he’ll be talking about it then.

    Why isn’t anyone talking about Afghanistan?

    Foreign Policy by Stephen M. Walt

    Even those who continued to defend the effort usually had to admit that success was going to require a decade or more of additional commitment and hundreds of billions of dollars in additional aid. Yet our national security apparatus couldn’t reach the conclusion to withdraw without first escalating the war, and without wasting more soldiers’ lives and a few hundred billion more dollars.

    How Not to Reconstruct Iraq, Afghanistan – or America

    The Huffington Post by Peter Van Buren

    Why has the United States spent so much money and time so disastrously trying to rebuild occupied nations abroad, while allowing its own infrastructure to crumble untended? Why do we even think of that as “policy”?

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  7. 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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  8. 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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  9. Afghan withdrawal not even close to halfway done

    Published: July 24th, 2012

    If you read only the news headlines, you missed the big Afghanistan story this week. The Associated Press headline reads: “US Afghan withdrawal halfway done.” The first paragraph clarifies that withdrawal planned for this summer is halfway done. That means that 23,000 U.S. troops will be home by fall. 68,000 will remain in Afghanistan.

    In other words, by the end of the summer we’ll be back down to the same number of troops in Afghanistan that were stationed there when President Obama announced the surge in December 2009.

    The administration has yet to announce the next steps in the Afghanistan drawdown. The NATO combat mission will end in 2014, but that doesn’t mean all of those 68,000 U.S. troops (plus 40,000 from NATO allies) will come home.

    General John Allen, commander of the U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, has consistently emphasized that combat operations will continue right up through December 31, 2014. He has also noted that “we’re probably going to see some post-2014 military presence — some U.S. presence and a NATO presence.”

    The two big unanswered questions are how many combat troops will be in Afghanistan on December 31, 2014, and how many non-combat troops will stay after January 1, 2015?

    The answers will have serious economic consequences. If military leaders like Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti have their way, 68,000 troops will stay for the first part of of 2013, maybe longer. If policymakers like Sen. Lindsey Graham have their way, 20,000 troops may stay after 2014.

    Maintaining this kind of presence in Afghanistan will only add to the already costly war. The Pentagon’s war budget request for 2013 is $88.5 billion. If Congress approves the request, war costs since will be close to $650 billion.

    Maintaining troop levels after 2014 will be expensive. Sustaining 20,000 troops could cost $25 billion each year. Adding in security assistance and humanitarian and economic aid at about $8 billion per year (a conservative estimate given Afghanistan aid trends), and the Afghanistan war will continue to cost over $30 billion each year for years to come.

    There are better uses for taxpayer dollars than an endless war in Afghanistan. American taxpayers certainly think so. A majority of Americans believes the war has not been worth the costs, according to a recent poll. We can only wonder why policymakers aren’t listening to the public and bringing U.S. troops — and tax dollars — home.

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  10. Seeking Responsible Policymakers on Afghanistan

    Published: June 26th, 2012

    Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s “Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan”, released today, lends new support to critiques of the Obama administration’s handling of the Afghanistan war. According to Little America, the administration squandered a chance to end the war by sidelining the Special representative for Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke, ignored the Vice President’s warnings against the counterinsurgency strategy, and dismissed a CIA report that the 30,000 troop surge had little measurable effect.

    Little America is not the first source that gives a different perspective on the Afghanistan war than the one regularly portrayed in the media. Earlier this year Lt. Col. Danny Davis wrote in a ground-breaking article for the Armed Forces Journal that policymakers deliberately suppressed negative news about the war, selling the public a sanitized version of what is really going on in Afghanistan.

    Chandrasekaran’s work is another window into how our Afghanistan policy went wrong. And it’s a useful reminder of how politics can have costly consequences. According to Little America, the administration’s flawed policy prolonged the war by several years, and cost American taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars.

    After Little America it might feel right to place the blame for the unwinding of the Afghanistan war on the Obama administration. But let’s not forget about the other players here. Congress played, and continues to play, a huge role in U.S. policy on Afghanistan.

    Unfortunately, many members of Congress, including fiscal conservatives, have dropped the ball on Afghanistan policy. Rather than supporting efforts to wind down the war, Congress has voted to extend it. Rather than working to make every aid dollar count, Congress has dragged their feet on improving aid oversight. Rather than finding ways to curtail war costs, Congress keeps approving requests to spend billions of dollars on the Afghanistan war each year.

    Each week this year the U.S. is spending $2 billion per week on the Afghanistan war. Next year, we will spend be about $1.7 billion per week. Meanwhile, student loan interest rates are about to skyrocket, tax rates will spike starting in January, and out-of-control government spending means the U.S. national debt is approaching $16 trillion.

    There are many better uses for taxpayer dollars than the war in Afghanistan. It’s time policymakers started listening to what taxpayers want: bring our troops and tax dollars home.

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