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 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 31st, 2012
2012 saw some important milestones in the Afghanistan war. The last of the surge troops left Afghanistan in September. U.S. and Afghan officials met twice to discuss post-2014 plans. The international community emphasized its continued commitment to Afghanistan by pledging billions in economic aid.
But the past year also brought more questions about whether the billions the U.S. has spent in Afghanistan were an effective use of taxpayer money.
Below is a roundup of the top reports in 2012 that uncovered examples of wasteful spending and an ineffective strategy in Afghanistan:
Afghanistan’s National Power Utility: $12.8 million in DOD-purchased equipment sits unused, and USAID paid a contractor for work not done. (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, December 2012)
Pentagon Says Afghan Forces Still Need Assistance (The New York Times on the Department of Defense annual Afghanistan assessment, December 2012)
- “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”
DOD Decision Makers Need Additional Analyses to Determine Costs and Benefits of Returning Excess Equipment (The Government Accountability Office, December 2012)
- “[The military’s equipment in Afghanistan] estimated to be worth more than $36 billion, has accumulated during a 10-year period. DOD officials also estimate that it could cost $5.7 billion to return or transfer equipment from Afghanistan.
- “Five of seven fiscal year 2011 AIF [Afghanistan infrastructure] projects are 6-15 months behind schedule, and most projects may not achieve desired COIN benefits for several years”
- “The Afghan government will likely be incapable of fully sustaining ANSF [Afghan National Security] facilities after the transition in 2014 and the expected decrease in U.S. and coalition support.”
- “The ANSF lacks personnel with the technical skills required to operate and maintain critical facilities, such as water supply, waste water treatment, and power generation.”
- “The Ministry of Defense’s procurement process is unable to provide the Afghan army with O&M supplies in a timely manner.”
U.S. probes reported record-shredding of fuel buys for Afghan army (Reuters on SIGAR letter, Interim Report on Afghan National Army Petroleum, Oil, and Lubricants, September 2012)
- “Investigators are probing reports of record-shredding by officials in the U.S.-led NATO command that trains the Afghan army after learning that records of fuel purchases for the Afghans totaling nearly $475 million are gone.”
Military’s Own Report Card Gives Afghan Surge an F (Wired on ISAF report on Enemy Initiated Attacks, September 2012)
- “The U.S. troop surge in Afghanistan ended last week. Conditions in Afghanistan are mostly worse than before it began. That conclusion doesn’t come from anti-war advocates. It relies on data recently released by the NATO command in Afghanistan.”
USAID has disbursed $9.5 billion for reconstruction and funded some financial audits as required, but many audits face significant delays, accountability limitations, and lack of resources (SIGAR, April 2012)
USAID spent almost $400 Million on an Afghan stabilization project despite uncertain results, but has taken steps to better assess similar Efforts (SIGAR, April 2012)
Published: December 27th, 2012
New reports released last week raise further questions about the costs of the Afghanistan war. An U.S. government watchdog audit finds that $13 million worth of electrical equipment “to meet urgent needs in support of the counterinsurgency strategy is sitting unused in storage…without a clear plan for installation.” A report by the Government Accountability Office questions the Pentagon’s plan to spend $5.7 billion transporting equipment from Afghanistan.
Wasteful War Strategy Persists
Afghanistan Study Group by Mary Kaszynski
An accelerated withdrawal of U.S. troops would be good first step, but it falls short of what is needed: a reevaluation of the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.
Millions in DOD-funded electric equipment for Afghanistan collecting dust
Foreign Policy’s E-Ring by Kevin Baron
The United states hires a private contractor to complete a major infrastructure reconstruction project in a war zone, yet when the equipment goes unused and the project unfinished, the contractor is paid millions – in full – anyway.
Bringing it all back home
Delaware Online by Bill McMichael
More than $36 billion worth of U.S. equipment has accumulated during the past decade in Afghanistan. With the administration currently planning to withdraw all combat troops by December 2014 and turn Afghanistan’s security completely over to its own forces, decisions have to be made. Does the U.S. bring the gear back, give it away or destroy it in place?
No guarantee of troops in Afghanistan past 2014
Navy Times by Andrew Tilghman
A third option – a complete withdrawal leaving no troops – is also a potential outcome, as U.S. decision-makers consider legal protections for American forces, domestic budget pressures and mounting threats elsewhere, some experts say.
Nearly half of UK forces to leave Afghanistan in 2013
Reuters by Peter Griffiths and Matt Falloon
Britain will withdraw nearly half its troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2013, the government said on Wednesday, as part of a security handover to Afghan forces more than a decade after the U.S.-led invasion.
US uniforms, like those used in attacks on bases, still found in Kabul shops
Stars and Stripes by Heath Druzin
When a shopkeeper at a Kabul market was asked if he had any U.S. military uniforms for sale, he answered, “Which unit?”
No end in sight for Afghanistan war
World News Australia by Ian Bickerton
The main purpose of the attack on the Taliban and Afghanistan was to destroy the al-Qaeda network responsible for the 9/11 attacks on the US. Eleven years later it is still not clear how successful this war has been.
Published: December 24th, 2012
The U.S. is looking to shift its military strategy in Afghanistan, moving from a combat role to training and advising the Afghan security forces. The Wall Street Journal reports that the shift could be implemented next year.
Despite being billed as a changed strategy, this move is really just a clarification of the current strategy. The U.S. plans to withdraw all combat troops by the end of 2014, letting Afghan security forces take the lead role for ongoing counterinsurgency operations.
If the transition from U.S. and allied forces to local forces begins next year, some of the 66,000 U.S. troops currently stationed in Afghanistan may be withdrawn earlier. If the transition is undertaken closer to the 2014 deadline, some troops may stay longer.
The “shift” in the U.S. strategy is less a shift than a hint at the drawdown timeline for the next two years. An accelerated withdrawal of U.S. troops would be good first step, but it falls short of what is needed: a reevaluation of the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.
The current strategy relies on a heavy military footprint today and the capabilities of the Afghan security forces tomorrow. But reliance on military force hasn’t solved Afghanistan’s security problems. In fact, there is clear evidence that increasing troop levels actually contributes to an increase in the number of insurgent attacks.
As for the second piece of the strategy — the Afghan security forces, which are supposed take the lead in 2014 — U.S. training efforts seem to have fallen short. Congress has allocated over $50 billion in security aid to Afghanistan since 2002. The funds support programs to train and equip local Afghan forces.
Despite the billions invested in Afghanistan’s security forces, serious doubts about their capabilities remain. According to a Pentagon report released just last week, only one of the Afghan Army’s 23 brigades can operate without support from the U.S. and allies.
Focusing on the training mission in won’t solve the fundamental problems with the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. After eleven years and more than $500 billion, it’s time for U.S. leaders to eliminate wasteful war spending and develop a strategy that works.
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 4th, 2012
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.
In October 2009, Taliban forces attacked Outpost Keating. U.S. troops, outnumbered seven to one, defended the post, but sustained heavy casualties. Of 53, 8 died and 22 were wounded, making the battle one of the deadliest for U.S. forces in the Afghanistan war.
Combat Outpost Keating is the subject of ABC White House correspondent Jake Tapper’s recent book, The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor. Tapper recently discussed the book on The Colbert Report.
The real tragedy, he said, is that “Despite some successes in three and a half years of the camp, by the end its only purpose really was its own self-defense.” American forces withdrew from Combat Outpost Keating shortly after that deadly battle in 2009; the war continued. A Pentagon investigation later concluded there was “no strategic purpose” for the camp.
Outpost Keating was the direct result of the flawed U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. In fact, The way the U.S. has carried out the war may have created more problems than it solved.
Take the surge strategy for example. In late 2009 the administration announced a plan to send an additional 33,000 troops to support the 68,000 already stationed in Afghanistan. Over the next several years U.S. troop levels increased, then the additional forces were gradually withdrawn. The last of the surge troop left Afghanistan two months ago, bringing us back to the 2009 level.
The Afghanistan surge was supposed to help eliminate and suppress the insurgency. Instead, the opposite happened. From 2009 to 2012, the number of enemy initiated attacks increased, according to the military’s own figures.
The limits of a strategy that relies too much on troop levels has been clear to the American public for some time. Opinion polls show support for the at all-time lows. According to a recent Washington Post/ABC poll, 66 percent think the costs of the war in Afghanistan outweigh the benefits. 60 percent of respondents support withdrawing troops as soon as possible, according to an October Pew poll.
Of course, there are still some holdouts, some who refuse to see that ten years, $500 billion, and little progress adds up to a bad strategy. A recent op-ed called for keeping 30,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014.
Maintaining a military presence of that size would likely cost over $30 billion per year, based on expert estimates. With a national debt of over $16 trillion, the U.S. can’t afford to continue a war most Americans don’t support.
Instead of spending billions in Afghanistan, we should be focusing on building the U.S. economy. $30 billion would go a long way towards repairing decaying infrastructure or rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy.
Better yet, instead of prolonging the war, maybe we should be investing in programs to care for the veterans who served in places like Outpost Camp Keating.