1. 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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  2. 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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  3. Afghanistan Weekly Reader: Poll Respondents Say the War Has Not Made the U.S. Safer

    Published: August 30th, 2012

    Three Australian soldiers were killed by a gunman in an Afghan army uniform this Wednesday, bringing the total number of fatalities from insider attacks this year to over 40. Compared to a total of 35 in 2011, this shows a sharp increase in green-on-blue attacks. The political shake-up in Afghanistan continues, as President Karzai reportedly intends to nominate some controversial picks to lead the Defense, Interior, and intelligence agencies. Meanwhile, the latest public opinion poll from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs shows that 51% of Americans believe the war in Afghanistan, which has cost over $500 billion, has made “no difference” in reducing the threat of terrorism, with 18% saying the war has made the U.S. less safe.

    From ASG
    Don’t Forget Afghanistan
    Afghanistan Study Group by Mary Kaszynski

    The Afghanistan war hasn’t played a major role in either of the presidential candidates’ campaigns. Whether the candidates believe voters aren’t interested, or whether they are simply avoiding a thorny foreign policy problem, here are the three big reasons why Afghanistan should not be forgotten.

    Most Americans See Afghan War as Not Reducing Threat of Terrorism

    A majority of Americans do not think the war in Afghanistan has reduced the threat of terrorism. However, this does not lead Americans to want to withdraw immediately, nor to persist indefinitely in the effort.

    Karzai Is Said to Consider Divisive Figures for Top Cabinet Posts
    The New York Times by Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Graham Bowley

    President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan has broadened a top-level cabinet shake-up, firing the country’s spy chief on Wednesday and, according to Western officials, lining up replacements for that post and the vacant Defense and Interior Ministries, at least one of which seemed likely to heighten tensions between Parliament and the presidential palace.

    The Best Laid Plans
    The Nation by Tom Engelhardt

    The message is certainly clear enough, however unprepared those in Washington and in the field are to hear it: forget our enemies; a rising number of those Afghans closest to us want us out in the worst way possible, and their message on the subject has been horrifically blunt.

    Afghanistan: a ragged retreat threatens to turn into a slow-motion rout
    The Guardian by Simon Tisdall

    When they return from their holidays, western leaders urgently need to refocus attention on Afghanistan – before the situation spins fatally out of their control.

    Wars? What Wars?
    Time’s Battleland by Mark Thompson

    It is amazing that after more than a decade of war, and 6,593 American dead (2,107 in Afghanistan and Operation Enduring Freedom; 4,487 in Iraq), the political party that spearheaded both wars is so silent on them now.

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  4. 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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  5. Money as a Weapons System

    Published: July 17th, 2012

    In the war in Afghanistan, money, the good ol’ American greenback, is used as a primary tool in the U.S. arsenal — a means to winning the hearts and minds of the people of Afghanistan and buying our frenemies’ “loyalty”. This practice is laid out in “Money as a Weapon System – Afghanistan,” a handbook for U.S. aid projects in Afghanistan.

    Money hasn’t been a particularly effective weapon system, but the aid flow hasn’t slowed either. Over the past ten years U.S. aid to Afghanistan has topped $30 billion, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction ($22.3 billion for governance and development, $6 billion for counter-narcotics, and $2.3 billion for humanitarian aid).

    The billion-dollar attempt to buy stability has yet to yield results. Violence in Afghanistan continues, and the ability of the Afghan forces to take over for U.S. and allied troops in 2014 remains uncertain. On the development side, Afghanistan remains dependent on the international community, with 97% of its GDP coming from foreign aid and military spending.

    Condolence payments are a particularly interesting piece of the Afghan aid puzzle. “The Money as a Weapons System” guidance caps condolence payments — payments to individual civilians for the death or physical injury resulting from specific U.S., coalition, or supporting military operations — at $5,000. The U.S. spent close to $700,000 in condolence payments in 2011, according to the Pentagon.

    From 2007, the first year the U.N. began tracking Afghan civilian casualties, to the end of 2011 close to 12,000 civilians were killed in the Afghanistan conflict. (A new CRS report has more on casualties of the war in Afghanistan). At that level, it’s hard to see that U.S. aid dollars, even in the millions, could repair the damage.

    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. But hearts and minds can’t be bought. 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.

    Worse, the war in Afghanistan has siphoned off funds that would have been better spent on domestic programs. Now, the U.S. is in the midst of a fiscal crisis. Spending is out of control, but some members of Congress are looking at raising taxes rather than getting defense spending under control. They should start by ending the war in Afghanistan — a war that is still costing us $2 billion per week.

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  6. 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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  7. 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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  8. 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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  9. Afghanistan Weekly Reader: Paying for Endless War

    Published: May 25th, 2012

    It was a big week for Afghanistan news. At the Chicago summit, NATO leaders agreed give Afghan forces the lead in combat operations by mid-2013 and withdraw ISAF combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 – a plan that Defense Secretary Panetta announced back in February. Meanwhile, two big leadership changes were announced: U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker is stepping down for health reasons, and Gen. John Allen, the commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, is expected to leave at the end of the year to become the chief allied commander in Europe.

    The connecting thread here is that the U.S. plan for Afghanistan shows neither stability nor clarity of purpose. The result, of course, is that American taxpayers will have to keep on paying for a war that they do not want. And it won’t be cheap. This year the U.S. will spend $2 billion per week on the war in Afghanistan. Next year, if Congress approves the president’s budget request, costs will go down slightly, to only $1.7 billion per week.

    From ASG

    Open-Ended Commitment To Afghanistan Will Cost Taxpayers Billions
    Afghanistan Study Group by Mary Kaszynski
    Fiscal conservatives are always saying we need to rein in wasteful government spending. Where are the fiscal conservatives when it comes to ending the wasteful war in Afghanistan?

    Accounting for War
    National Priorities Project by Chris Hellman
    The withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and the winding down of military operations in Afghanistan does not mean the end of the U.S. presence or war-related funding. U.S. taxpayers will continue to provide funding for Iraq and Afghanistan for years into the future.

    General says Afghanistan will need “combat power”
    The United States will require “significant firepower” in Afghanistan in 2013-14, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces there said, but decisions about further U.S. troop reductions will only be made after this fall at the earliest.

    Afghanistan’s Squandered Foreign Aid Has Young Businessmen Worried About Future
    Huffington Post by Joshua Hersh
    The billions of dollars that has flowed through the country for the past decade may have made some people rich, but has failed to create the kind of environment that would allow businesses to sustain themselves after the international community withdraws, or the kind of businesses that might choose to stick around.


    Apathetic on Afghanistan: Why the candidates are ignoring voter sentiment
    Highlander News by Brendan Bordelon
    If Americans cannot muster the courage to stand by their convictions and hold our elected officials accountable for wasteful and destructive policies, the worthless death and devastation may well continue into 2014 and beyond. In the last two presidential elections, war was a central campaign issue. This time, voters only worry about Afghanistan when they’re forced to. Can we expect our politicians to behave any differently?

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  10. Time for a New Strategy in Afghanistan

    Published: May 11th, 2012

    Pentagon officials and pundits enjoy telling us that if we stay the course we can still win the war in Afghanistan. This argument directly contradicts the facts. Ten years and over $500 billion later, the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan isn’t working. This strategy doesn’t require more patience – or more blood and treasure. It needs to be changed.

    However, Defense Department officials are sticking to the company line. Every year DOD reports to Congress on progress in Afghanistan. This year’s report, released last week, was largely overlooked, partly because of media flurry surrounding the US-Afghan Strategic Agreement, and partly because there’s really no news here – the new report sounds very similar to previous reports.

    “We continue to build on that progress [made since last year’s report]. Challenges remain.” said Assistant Secretary of Defense Captain John Kirby. In other words, DOD says that the strategy is working – if we keep funding the war, we just might win.

    Defense officials are backed up by analysts who argue that “with patience on all sides, we can still reach a tolerable outcome.” Of course, supporters of extending the war rarely mention that their policy recommendations will cost billions of dollars and the lives of U.S. soldiers.

    The current strategy isn’t just expensive; it’s also ineffective. IED attacks set a record high last year. Millions of dollars are being wasted on unsustainable reconstruction projects. Afghan soldiers are turning on NATO counterparts. Most disturbingly, the real news about the Afghanistan war doesn’t make it back to the American public.

    Despite efforts to hide the fact that there’s been no real progress, Americans know a failed strategy when they see one. The latest public opinion poll shows that two-thirds of respondents disapprove of the US-Afghan Strategic Agreement, which commits billions of aid dollars to Afghanistan and allows for a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan for the next ten years.

    Ten years is long enough. Rather than wasting another $500 billion on an unnecessary war, we should be investing in programs that really matter.

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