War Costs Will Continue After 2014

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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