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: January 22nd, 2013
The U.S. has provided some 30,000 vehicles to the Afghan National Police (ANP). Since the ANP cannot afford maintenance costs, and likely will not be able to do so for several years, the U.S. has been picking up the tab. But we may not be getting what we think we’re paying for.
According to a new audit by the U.S. Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the U.S. spent $6.8 million on maintenance for vehicles that had not been seen in over a year, had never been seen, or had been destroyed.
The problem, the report concludes, was that the U.S. command that awarded the contract did not adjust the terms to reflect the number of police vehicles requiring maintenance.
$6.8 million is small fraction of the billions the U.S. has spent in Afghanistan. Since 2002, Congress has allocated over $50 billion to train and equip the Afghan security forces.
Still, $6.8 million is not an insignificant amount, especially when the U.S. is looking for ways to cut back on unnecessary spending. Across the country budget cuts are hitting local police forces hard. Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to spend billions on Afghanistan aid projects — $28 million per day, according to the Inspector General.
Some policymakers are starting to call for more transparency and oversight in Afghanistan aid. And we are making some progress. For example, the U.S. agency that oversaw this particular boondoggle has already made changes, updating its tracking system and removing over 7,000 vehicles that should not have been on the maintenance list. The Inspector General estimates that this improvement will save U.S. taxpayers $5.5 million per year.
It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough. Eliminating a few unnecessary and unsustainable programs will yield some savings, but the problems will continue until the U.S. develops a new strategy for Afghanistan that links long-term strategic goals with smart budget choices.
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 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.
Published: November 26th, 2012
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.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta recently addressed the success of U.S. efforts against al Qaeda, saying “al-Qaeda has been significantly weakened in Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Its most effective leaders are gone. Its command, and control have been degraded, and its safe haven is shrinking….we have decimated core al-Qaeda.”
The U.S. must still “finish the job” in Afghanistan, Secretary Panetta added, calling for continued commitment on both military and diplomatic fronts.
Of course, Sec. Panetta’s stance on the Afghanistan war is representative of the Pentagon establishment perspective, and therefore flawed. He says that the administration of sending an additional 33,000 troops to Afghanistan was a success. But the number of enemy attacks actually increased during years of the troop surge.
Similarly, Secretary Panetta insists that “we are at a turning point after 10 years of war.” But that’s what officials and experts have been saying about the war for years. But every year since 2002 has been a “turning point” in the Afghanistan war, according to officials and experts.
More disturbing than the Pentagon’s take on the war is the fact that some pundits still support a sustained military presence in Afghanistan. The latest defense of this flawed strategy is a Washington Post op-ed by Kimberly Kagan and Frederick W. Kagan.
The authors are known supporters of continuing the current strategy in Afghanistan, despite the mounting evidence that the strategy isn’t working. In this latest piece they call for keeping 68,000 troops in Afghanistan through 2014 and about 30,000 after 2014.
The authors don’t say how long these 30,000 will stay, but they compare the troop level to the number of U.S. troops stationed in Korea, perhaps a hint that they would like to see U.S. troops in Afghanistan for decades to come.
Interestingly, the authors are completely silent how much their plan for Afghanistan will cost. This should be a red flag for taxpayers.
The Kagans’ plan is essentially this: keeping tens of thousands of troops in Afghanistan has worked so well over the past ten years that we should continue the same strategy for the foreseeable future.
But not only has the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan failed, it has cost close to $600 billion. Continuing the current strategy will not strengthen U.S. national security; it will only add billions to the costs of the war.
Maintaining a military footprint on the scale envisioned by the Kagans would likely cost about $35 billion per year, based on expert estimates. That doesn’t include the billions of dollars for security and economic aid that the U.S. and allies have committed to Afghanistan over the next several years.
With a national debt of over $16 trillion, policymakers are debating the best way to cut back on government spending. In the midst of the fiscal crisis, spending billions on a war that most Americans want to end is a waste of taxpayer dollars.
Published: November 20th, 2012
The U.S. and Afghanistan began talks last week over the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan after 2014, news sources report. The talks, which will tackle thorny questions like immunity for U.S. troops and the number of that will remain in the country, could last up to a year.
These talks are have important implications for the winding down of U.S. combat operations and the beginning of the next phase of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. But the U.S.-Afghanistan negotiations are unlikely to make the front page. With so much attention on the Petraeus scandal and Benghazi investigation, the war in Afghanistan will likely continue to go unnoticed.
Overlooking the war in Afghanistan is a mistake, and one that will cost U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars.
Many Americans seem to believe that the war in Afghanistan is over. This is an understandable mistake; most policymakers don’t talk about the fact that 68,000 U.S. troops are still fighting in Afghanistan.
Many also forget about the war because they believe it will end soon. In fact, the U.S. has committed to withdrawing its 68,000 combat troops by the end of 2014, over two years from now. The pace of the drawdown is still undecided, as is the number of U.S. military trainers and special operations forces that will remain after 2014.
The large U.S. military presence has come at a high price: $13.2 billion per month in 2011, $10.5 billion per month billion in 2012, and an estimated $8.1 billion per month in 2013, according to administration budget figures.
Experts say sustaining 20,000 troops could cost $25 billion per year. Adding several billion each year for security and economic aid, and annual war costs could reach $30 billion. War costs, already nearing $600 billion, will continue to add up over the next several years.
Congress will play a key role in reining in wasteful spending in Afghanistan. Already some who previously supported continuing the war have recognized the ineffectiveness of the current strategy and called for an accelerated drawdown.
Other members of Congress, however, continue to believe that a large military presence will solve Afghanistan’s problems. They equate withdrawal with retreat, believing that more troops and more money will somehow lead to victory.
In fact, the past eleven years have shown that the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan has been counterproductive. When the U.S. increased troop levels, insurgent attacks increased. When the U.S. poured billions of dollars into unsustainable projects, it created an aid bubble that will burst when international funding dries up.
If U.S. policymakers don’t step up and fix the wasteful strategy in Afghanistan, U.S. taxpayers will end up paying the price.
Published: November 13th, 2012
The resignation of CIA Director General David Petraeus as head of the CIA last Friday led many to reflect on the legacy of the man who led U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2011.
Bing West, assistant Secretary of Defense for President Reagan, had this to say about Gen. Petraeus and Afghanistan:
“Gen. Petraeus’s concept of nation building as a military mission probably will not endure. Our military can train the armed forces of others (if they are willing) and, in Afghanistan, we can leave behind a cadre to destroy nascent terrorist havens. But American soldiers don’t know how to build Minneapolis or Memphis, let alone Muslim nations.”
West pinpointed one of the fundamental flaws of nation-building. U.S. troops are most capable in the world, but they are trained for combat, not building roads and distributing food aid.
There’s another big problem with nation-building in Afghanistan: it is very expensive. And with the a national debt of over $16 trillion, the U.S. cannot afford to spend billions more on the war in Afghanistan.
War costs ramped up significantly as the U.S. mission in Afghanistan expanded. From 2001 to 2006, spending on the war did not exceed $20 billion per year. In 2010, 2011, and 2012, war costs were over $100 billion per year.
As U.S. combat troops leave Afghanistan, war funding will decline, but not as much as you might expect. The Pentagon’s request for operations in Afghanistan in 2013 is $85.6 billion, or $1.6 billion per week.
The U.S. military presence in Afghanistan after 2014 is still unclear. But if 20,000 troops remain, a plan that some members of Congress support, war costs could top $25 billion per year for years to come.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is facing a fierce budget debate at home. With a national debt of over $16 trillion, finding ways to cut back government spending is critical. The Pentagon is already facing significant budget reductions of $487 billion over the next ten years, plus another $500 billion in automatic, across-the-board cuts if Congress fails to agree on a budget deal before January.
The war has already cost over $580 billion. Spending billions more on nation-building in Afghanistan, while the U.S. economy is still recovering, doesn’t make sense.
Published: October 22nd, 2012
Note: This is the third in a three-part series on the economic costs of the war in Afghanistan. Part one, $570 Billion and Counting, can be found here. Part two, The War That Won’t End, can be found here.
An Exploding Defense Budget: One Result of Afghan War
According to official accounts, the war in Afghanistan has cost the United States over $570 billion to date. However, the actual cost of the war has been much greater. A blank check for the war budget allowed the broader defense budget to spiral out of control.
Today, policymakers struggle to rein in Pentagon spending, which has taken an almost sacred status over a decade with little accountability.
The way we budgeted for the war in Afghanistan directly contributed to the spike in defense spending over the past decade. Funding for the war was separated from other defense spending into its own account. The “overseas contingency operations” account, as it was called, was supposed to include all the costs of the war; other defense spending, called the base defense budget, was in the traditional accounts.
The goal of the separate war account was to ensure that combat operations received adequate support, without forcing tradeoffs with base defense costs.
What actually happened was that both the base and the war budget exploded. Policymakers were hesitant to scrutinize spending labeled “for the war.” As a result, the war budget account was the perfect safety valve—a hiding place for defense costs that couldn’t fit into the base defense budget.
Policymakers weren’t eager to trim the base defense budget either. From 2001 to 2011, the amount appropriated for the base defense budget totals $5.2 trillion, an increase of $670 billion over the pre-2001 defense budget plan.
More than ten years of war helped to foster an aura of sacredness around the defense budget. Policymakers, unwilling to exercise oversight, turned a blind eye to budget gimmicks and signed off on the Pentagon’s requests each year.
Today, we’re starting to feel the the results going ten years without taking a hard look at defense spending. With the national debt at $16 trillion and counting, policymakers are trying to rein in out-of-control spending. Reintroducing fiscal responsibility to the Pentagon budget is proving difficult, but eliminating unnecessary defense programs is the key to a more effective and efficient defense strategy.
Ending the war in Afghanistan is a good place to start. Fiscally responsible policymakers know that much of the $570 billion allocated for the war in Afghanistan was spent unnecessarily. Eliminating waste in the war budget is one step towards a smarter, more sustainable defense strategy.
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.
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.
Published: October 2nd, 2012
Sustaining combat operations in Afghanistan costs billions of dollars each year. The costs of other operations associated with warfighting have driven the war budget even higher.
Take this small piece of the Afghanistan drawdown, for example. Over the next couple of years, the U.S. Marine Corps will ship tens of thousands of weapons, vehicles, and pieces of gear back from Afghanistan. The costs of transporting and repairing that equipment is an estimated $3.2 billion.
Bringing home and refurbishing or replacing equipment used in Afghanistan, a process known as “reset,” has been factored into the war budget for years. In fiscal year 2012 the Pentagon’s war budget included $13 billion for equipment reset. The request for 2013 is $9.3 billion.
The billions of dollars allocated for funding the reset have allowed the military to do much than transport equipment back from Afghanistan and patch it up.
In fact, according to analysis from the Stimson Center, war funding “significantly enhanced” funding available for weapons procurement, accounting for over $230 billion, or 22 percent of procurement funding from 2001 to 2010.
“Over the last decade, we spent roughly $1 trillion on defense procurement and the military services used that funding, including that provided in the supplemental war funding, to modernize their forces,” the Stimson report concludes.
How much of the war funds labeled “reset” actually go towards refurbishing equipment used for the war? Less than 60 percent, according to a 2007 report by the Congressional Budget Office.
“More than 40 percent of the requested funds have been designated for activities other than replacing lost equipment or repairing returned systems,” the CBO report reads. “Those activities include upgrading systems to make them more capable and buying new equipment to eliminate shortfalls in the Army’s inventories, some of which are long-standing.”
The war budget may have been a useful loophole for the Pentagon, looking to upgrade its weapons systems, but the resulting expansion of war costs has had serious repercussions for the U.S. economy.
According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, the costs of the wars are a driving factor of projected budget deficits over the next ten years.