1. Afghanistan Weekly Reader: Senate Votes for Accelerated Drawdown

    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.

    From ASG
    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

    Associated Press

    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.

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  2. Afghanistan Weekly Reader: U.S. Considers Keeping 10,000 Troops in Afghanistan

    Published: November 28th, 2012

    Pentagon officials say a recommendation on post-2014 troop levels is coming within weeks, although the specific number of troops is still undecided. The administration reportedly favors keeping 10,000 troops in Afghanistan. Some political pundits are calling for a heavy military footprint of 30,000, while other experts ask why the U.S. still has 66,000 combat troops in the country.

    From ASG
    Al Qaeda Decimated, but US Considers Heavy Military Footprint in Afghanistan

    Afghanistan Study Group by Mary Kaszynski

    Despite official U.S. assessments that al Qaeda leadership has been “decimated,” some experts are insisting that the U.S. maintain a heavy military footprint in Afghanistan — a strategy that will cost billions of dollars each year.

    Pentagon: Discussion of troop numbers remaining in Afghanistan ‘premature’

    Stars and Stripes by Chris Carroll

    The Pentagon says it plans to tell the White House within weeks how many American troops military leaders believe will be needed in Afghanistan after 2014 to train local forces and continue to target al-Qaida.

    Afghanistan Opium Fields Still Growing Despite Efforts

    Wall Street Journal by Maria Abi-Habib

    Land under opium cultivation in Afghanistan increased 18% this year, despite a decade of efforts by the international community to get Afghan farmers to switch to legal, though less lucrative, crops, a survey released Tuesday said.

    Audit Says Kabul Bank Began as ‘Ponzi Scheme’

    New York Times by Matthew Rosenberg

    Kabul Bank became Afghanistan’s largest financial institution by offering the promise of modern banking to people who had never had a saving or checking account. What it really dealt in was modern theft: “From its very beginning,” according to a confidential forensic audit of Kabul Bank, “the bank was a well-concealed Ponzi scheme.”

    For Obama, could 10,000 troops in Afghanistan be too many?

    Reuters by Phil Stewart

    President Barack Obama publicly scoffed at the idea of keeping 10,000 troops in Iraq. So could he really be persuaded to keep that many in Afghanistan after the war formally ends in 2014?

    How Long Will it Take to Leave Afghanistan?

    New York Times Editorial Blog by Andrew Rosenthal

    Why not just start now? If all it takes is a year, then the United States could plausibly be out of Afghanistan by this time next year…it would mean one less year of American casualties on the battlefield – and one less year spent trying to make the Afghan army into a real fighting force.

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  3. 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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  4. Afghanistan Weekly Reader: Congress Backs Spending Billions on Afghanistan War

    Published: July 20th, 2012

    For a brief time, the war in Afghanistan took center stage this week as the U.S. House of Representatives started debate on next year’s defense spending levels. A number of amendments to the defense spending bill call for speeding up the drawdown and scaling back war costs. On both sides of the aisle members are making the case for ending this unnecessary, expensive war. Unfortunately policymakers with a reasonable position on Afghanistan are still in the minority. Until members of Congress start listening to the American people, most of whom believe the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting, the war is likely to continue, to the tune of $2 billion taxpayer dollars per week.

    From ASG
    Money as a Weapons System
    Afghanistan Study Group by Mary Kaszynski

    Condolence payments are just one example of the flawed U.S. strategy in Afghanistan – a strategy based on the idea that we can buy our way to victory. Pouring money into the Afghan economy hasn’t won us many friends, but it has created an aid bubble that will burst as international donors realize the current path of Afghan aid is unsustainable.

    Afghanistan war protested by GOP, Dems to start debate on DOD spending bill
    The Hill’s Floor Action by Pete Kasperowicz

    Several House Democrats and Republicans started debate on a 2013 Department of Defense spending bill by protesting the ongoing war in Afghanistan, and calling on members to support amendments over the next several days aimed at reducing funding for the war.

    Top Senators Can’t Explain Romney’s Afghanistan Policy
    Foreign Policy’s The Cable by Josh Rogin

    Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s policy on the future of U.S.-led war in Afghanistan war is unclear and confusing, complicating attempts to either support or criticize it during the campaign, according to leading senators from both parties.

    GOP Congressman on Afghanistan: ‘There Is Not One Thing That We’re Going to Accomplish Over There’
    Huffington Post by Bob Geiger

    Republican Representative Walter Jones took to the floor of the House of Representatives Tuesday to again announce his dismay at continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan, saying that people in his district have turned against the war and told him again over the Independence Day holiday that they want all American troops to come home.

    Five lessons we should have learned in Afghanistan
    PBS by Joshua Foust

    As the war in Afghanistan reaches its 2014 transition, when the major combat mission ends and U.S. troops take on a more sedate training role, we should take the chance to look back on what lessons we’ve learned there. With the war shifting from outright combat to maintaining the Afghan government and security forces; can we apply lessons from the last 11 years of warfare to what comes next?

    Q&A with CFR’s Richard Haass: 2012 elections, Afghanistan and why corporations are important in foreign policy
    The Washington Post by Allen McDuffee

    It’s not likely that additional investment on our part will produce results that are commensurate with greater investment…we need to be realistic about what we can accomplish given the nature of Afghan society, the continued existence of a sanctuary for hostile forces in Pakistan and the agenda and commitment of the Taliban.

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  5. The Enduring Military Presence in Afghanistan

    Published: June 19th, 2012

    Iran’s nuclear program and drone strikes in Pakistan are garnering a lot of attention in the news lately, which makes it  easy to forget that we are still at war in Afghanistan. And despite American’s wish to the contrary, the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan will last long after the combat mission ends in 2014.

    The U.S. still has more than 90,000 troops in Afghanistan. Some of these troops will come home over the summer, but many more — 68,000, to be exact — will remain. An exact number of troops that will remain as the U.S. and allies transition to local security forces through 2013 and 2014 is still unclear.

    Gen. John Allen, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, has said that “we will need significant combat power in 2013,” while local security forces start to take on the primary lead in the combat mission. Recent comments from other U.S. leaders indicate that the military footprint in Afghanistan will last long after the combat mission is over.

    Capt. John Kirby, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Media Operations, recently noted that “we … continue to believe that they’ll be some U.S. presence in Afghanistan and a U.S. military mission of some kind after the ISAF mission ends at the end of 2014…It will most likely be in some sort of training, advising and assisting capacity that could involve Air Force personnel and Air Force capabilities.”

    Defense Secretary of Panetta, meanwhile, has spoken of the “enduring presence” of the U.S. military in Afghanistan. Testifying at a recent hearing, Sec. Panetta said,

    “I am confident that we’re going to be able to complete all of the transition in the areas that we have as part of General Allen’s plan, that we can do this because we have the Afghan army in place — but also because we continue to have ISAF in place as well to provide the support necessary.

    So I think the combination of an Afghan army that’s able to do the job plus the kind of enduring presence that we need to have there as well in order to assure that the training and assistance continues. I think that combination does make clear that they’re going to be able to govern and secure themselves at that point.” [Emphasis added]

    Neither the Pentagon nor the administration has publicly laid out post-2014 plans, but they are clearly leaving open the possibility of a significant military presence. Even though relying on military might has done little to prevent instability in Afghanistan and has drained significant resources from the american people.

    Even as the media and public attention is drawn away from Afghanistan, the violence continues. The U.S. death toll reached 2,000 this past week. A recent attack on a U.S. outpost killed two Americans; another recent attack left six dead.

    The economic costs of the war continue to add up too. Each week of war in 2012 costs about $2 billion. 2013 war costs will be about $90 billion — $1.7 billion per week. Already the ten-year costs of the war have topped $500 billion. If Panetta’s “enduring presence” means thousands of troops, we could be looking at the continuation of this trillion dollar war.

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  6. War Costs Will Continue After 2014

    Published: June 12th, 2012

    The U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan may end in by 2014, but that doesn’t mean troops will be coming home. And it certainly doesn’t mean that war costs will end any time soon.

    The situations in Iraq and Afghanistan are very different, but Iraq can still tell us something about what may happen in Afghanistan.  President Obama declared an end to the combat mission in Iraq at the end of August 2010, when there were close to 50,000 U.S. troops in the country. One year later, there were still around 40,000. If the Iraq government hadn’t refused to grant U.S. troops legal immunity, they would still be in Iraq today.

    We’re likely to see something similar in Afghanistan. The U.S. and NATO allies will transition the lead combat mission to Afghan forces mid-2013, but the International Security Assistance Force
    combat role will not end until 2014. What the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan will look like post-2014 is anyone’s guess, but the U.S.-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement explicitly “provides for the possibility of U.S. forces in Afghanistan after 2014.”

    Sustaining an expansive the U.S. presence in Afghanistan will be expensive, especially if the number of deployed U.S. troops stays high. The U.S. has already agreed to pay $2.6 billion per year through 2024 for the Afghan security forces. Add to that some $8 billion – that Department of State request for war-related operations in 2013 – and you’re already over $10 billion, without even looking at the Department of Defense budget. DOD’s reset account – funds to repair and replace equipment used in combat operations – came to $13 billion in 2012.

    Costs to sustain U.S. troops, however many stay in Afghanistan post-2014, are in addition to all these costs, meaning U.S. taxpayers will continue to pay billions to finance the war for years to come.

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  7. Afghanistan Weekly Reader: $11 Billion for State Department War Operations in 2012

    Published: June 7th, 2012

    Secretary of Defense Panetta’s trip to Kabul yesterday made it clear that, while the NATO combat mission in Afghanistan is winding down, the war is far from over. Yesterday also marked the deadliest day this year for Afghan civilians, with a suicide attack in Kandahar City and a NATO airstrike in rural Logar Province causing at least 24 civilian deaths. Meanwhile, the number of U.S. fatalities in Afghanistan has reached 2,000. And despite the continuing violence, the U.S. war spending shows no sign of slowing down.

    From ASG
    Congress Silent on Ending the Afghanistan War

    Afghanistan Study Group by Mary Kaszynski

    Unlike their constituents, who have spoken so strongly in favor of ending the war, many elected officials are silent.

    No. 2 U.S. Commander In Afghanistan Would Like 68,000 Troops Into Next Year

    NPR by Tom Bowman

    The number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan will drop by 23,000 by September. At that point, 68,000 U.S. troops will be serving in the country, fighting the Taliban and training Afghan soldiers and police. Any further reductions are now at the center of a debate. It’s all a game of numbers.

    U.S. and NATO secure exit route from Afghanistan

    CNN by Mike Mount

    U.S. and NATO equipment will have a guaranteed route out of Afghanistan after an agreement with Central Asian countries allowing the alliance to completely cut out the shorter Pakistani access routes NATO has used for years.

    U.S. Cozies Up to Pakistan’s Archrival for Afghan War
    Wired by Spencer Ackerman

    In a move that could rankle Pakistan, the U.S. military is encouraging Islamabad’s arch-rival, India, to deepen its involvement in the Afghanistan war.

    And now, only one senior al Qaeda leader left
    CNN by Peter Bergen

    Few Americans harbor irrational fears about being killed by a lightning bolt. Abu Yahya al-Libi’s death on Monday should remind them that fear of al Qaeda in its present state is even more irrational.

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  8. Afghanistan Weekly Reader: Declining Support for a Costly, Unnecessary War

    Published: June 1st, 2012

    It’s widely known that support for the war in Afghanistan is plummeting among the general public. Less well-known is the fact that antiwar sentiment is growing among post-9/11 veterans too. A recent poll shows that 33% of veterans believe the war is not worth the costs. These veterans are joined by members of the faculty at West Point Military Academy who argue that the Afghanistan counterinsurgency could work, but at an unacceptable cost to the United States.

    While opposition to the Afghanistan war is growing, the U.S. Congress continues to back the war effort. The House of Representatives recently voted down an amendment to withdraw combat troops quickly. And the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to approve the Pentagon’s request of $88.5 billion for war costs in 2013, bringing the total costs of the war to over $600 billion.

    From ASG
    $85 Billion in Aid to Afghanistan Wasted
    Afghanistan Study Group by Mary Kaszynski
    Much the $100 billion U.S. taxpayer dollars spent Afghanistan aid has been misdirected. A former senior auditor for SIGAR estimates that only 15% of aid dollars makes it to the intended recipient. The rest is lost to waste and corruption or eaten up by overhead costs. For the U.S., that means $85 billion has been wasted in Afghanistan.

    West Point Is Divided on a War Doctrine’s Fate
    The New York Times by Elisabeth Bumiller

    Narrowly, the argument is whether the counterinsurgency strategy used in Iraq and Afghanistan — the troop-heavy, time-intensive, expensive doctrine of trying to win over the locals by building roads, schools and government — is dead. Broadly, the question is what the United States gained after a decade in two wars.

    Among post-9/11 veterans, deepening antiwar sentiment
    The CS Monitor by Gloria Goodale
    This Memorial Day the Iraq war is over and the Afghanistan war is winding down, but they’re weighing heavily on post-9/11 veterans, 33 percent of whom said they weren’t worth the cost.

    Afghanistan Exit Strategy Must Focus on Development
    US News and World Report by Michael Honda and Michael Shank
    Development in Afghanistan is currently in the wrong hands. Tens of billions of dollars of American taxpayer money have been spent over almost 12 years in Afghanistan on development projects which were largely managed and implemented by foreign contractors and with little regard for long-term localized viability.

    Cost of war in Afghanistan not justified
    The Portland Maine Press Herald Editorial Board
    It’s time to reflect once again on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and their costs in lives, treasure and national prestige. In the end, Afghanistan was not what candidate Barack Obama described as a “smart war,” with clear military objectives and a way out, but another “dumb war” like Iraq, where the liberators soon became a detested occupying army.

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  9. Afghanistan Weekly Reader: Over $4 Billion per Year for the Afghan Security Forces

    Published: April 12th, 2012

    The recent spate of violence in Afghanistan – two NATO servicemembers died just yesterday in two bomb explosions and an insurgent attack – have everyone wondering if the Afghan security forces are up to the task ahead. Just a few weeks ago, Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the deputy commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, estimated that only about 1% of Afghan units can operate independently.

    The US has spent over $50 billion training and equipping the Afghan National Security Forces since 2001. A recently announced cut in force size will lower future costs. But the US and allies can still expect to pay billions for Afghan security well into the future. Anticipated costs: a total of more than $40 billion over the next ten years.

    From ASG
    $300 Million Taxpayer Dollars For A Broken Power Plant
    Afghanistan Study Group by Mary Kaszynski
    Boondoggles like the Kabul Power Plant are a sign of where the U.S. strategy Afghanistan went wrong. Surely we could have used those funds for United States infrastructure projects.

    May/June 2012
    When America Leaves: Asia after the Afghan War
    The American Interest by Rajan Menon

    The United States retains various means to help Afghans and shape competition in Afghanistan. Hence post-American Afghanistan need not become non-American Afghanistan. Yet the United States cannot determine how the states of Greater Central Asia conduct themselves in the competition to shape Afghanistan: it will be but one player among many—and a distant one at that.

    Lynch reverses field on Afghan mission
    The Boston Globe by Bryan Bender

    Lynch, frustrated by a lack of progress, is now breaking with the Obama administrationand calling on the president to speed up American withdrawal from Afghanistan by at least a year.

    Broke Afghans Will Cut Their Military — And Obama’s War Plan
    Wired by Spencer Ackerman

    The U.S. will still provide some funding for the Afghans it will continue to train after 2014. But if the U.S. isn’t going to pay for a super-sized Afghan security force, then the cash-strapped NATO allies, who are even wearier of the Afghanistan war than the U.S. is, definitely won’t…But the looming cuts pose a deeper question: why did the U.S. spend billions of dollars building the Afghan soldiers and cops to an unsustainable size?

    5 steps to better politics in Afghanistan
    Foreign Policy by Paul Miller

    The United States and United Nations should work with the Afghans instead to push for a grand political bargain that could actually make a difference in the counterinsurgency against the Taliban: a new Loya Jirga to amend the constitution, devolve power, adjust the electoral calendar, change the voting system, and invite the Taliban to form a political party.

    Time to let Hamid Karzai kick us out of Afghanistan
    Politico by Lawrence Korb

    We have achieved our primary objectives of killing Osama bin Laden and decimating the leadership of Al Qaeda. No matter how long we stay, we cannot control the future of Afghanistan.

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  10. $300 Million Taxpayer Dollars for a Broken Power Plant

    Published: April 10th, 2012

    The deaths of 16 Afghan civilians at the hands of a US soldier raised a number of questions about the psychological effects of war on the men and women of our armed forces, and whether the military is doing enough to care for them. The tragedy also points to a more fundamental problem: after more than ten years of war, the US forces are worn out.

    It didn’t have to be this way. We could have employed a smarter, more efficient strategy, relying on intelligence assets and special operations forces, like Seal Team Six.  Instead, the US pursued a strategy of dedicated nation-building. The burden for executing that strategy fell on a small percentage of deployable troops. According to the Defense Business Board, 30% of active duty troops have deployed two or more times, while 40% have never deployed.

    Nation-building requires significant investments. It eats up decades, dollars, and lives, and gives little in return.

    The nation-building experiment in Afghanistan has been a disaster for armed forces, and a fiscal disaster as well. Military spending has grown out of control. For Afghanistan alone, war costs total more than $550 billion since 2001. In that same time frame the base defense budget grew almost $700 billion over the pre-war plan.

    The decade of war was an excuse to pour money into the Department of Defense. But there was no incentive to spend wisely. Overhead costs ballooned, totaling at least $200 billion in 2010, according to the Defense Business Board. While costs for new programs like the F-35 soared, funds for vital programs like the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, designed to protects troops from IEDs, were delayed.  Billions of dollars were invested in unsustainable Afghanistan reconstruction projects—like the $300 million Kabul Power Plant that is seldom used because the government cannot afford to operate and maintain it.

    Boondoggles like the Kabul Power Plant are a sign of where the U.S. strategy Afghanistan went wrong. Surely we could have used those funds for United States infrastructure projects.

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