Gringo Lost

Words about things and stuff

Hyper-linking the costs of war in Afghanistan

with 7 comments

Yes, George F. Will it is time to get out of Afghanistan.  As General Patreaus has said, al Qaida is not operating in Afghanistan. And if our principle mission is – and should be – to “disrupt, dismantle, and defeat” AQ then we can do that mission better by using tactics focused on countering terrorists, instead of diverting attention to fight drug kingpins or battle for “hearts and minds” against an anti-Karzai insurgency.

After all, for how many years can we spend $68 billion in Afghanistan.  If Anthony Cordesman is correct then “victory” is still years to come.  Yet, it has already been more than 8 years of “democracy/state-building“, even though AQ hasn’t re-established a base there since October 2001.  That was some sort of victory; maybe it is the only “victory” we need.

$68 billion is a lot of money but it is not enough to pay for the extra troops that General McChrystal says is needed to achieve “success”.  Interestingly enough, $68 billion is about 100x more than the annual Afghan tax income of $715 million.  Likewise interesting, Afghanistan is broke (surprise!) with a yearly deficit of nearly $2 billion.

But an Afghan budget deficit of $2 billion doesn’t even compare to the record-breaking US federal budget deficit of $1.6 trillion.

But all of this talk about money glosses over a more important aspect of US operations in Afghanistan, namely the extended troop deployments which have left America scarred with war causalities; and have strained families often to the point of break-up.  Potentially endagering national security, these deployments have left our force structure stretched dangerously thin potentially ill-prepared for future conflicts.

To conclude, some other quick tidbits of factual information:

  • Two months ago was the deadliest month for coalition forces; until it was surpassed by last month.
  • When the US expelled AQ from Afghanistan in 2002, the total cost of the war was around $20 billion; eight years later costs are rising with the war budget this year exceeding the first three years of the war by nearly 3x as much.
  • A two-fold increase in Afghanistan’s GDP would make it slightly less than North Korea’s, and comparable to Chad, Kenya, Bangladesh, Ghana, and Zambia.
  • The Horn of Africa, Yemen, and United States are all places more likely to host terrorist threats that endanger US interests more than Afghanistan.

7 Responses

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  1. GL, I agree with most of your points. As far as “General Patreaus has said, al Qaida is not operating in Afghanistan.” I find this a bit hard to believe. The Taliban has 10K to 15K hard core fighters. I believe al Qaida is laying low, regrouping, and letting the Taliban do the fighting. I believe to pull out now would have a plethora of unintended consequences. The most frightening is a nuclear Pakistan descending into civil war. The cost of this unintended consequence will dwarf the Afghan 68 Billion dollar price tag. Our government is dreaming if they think they can deal with/buyout the Taliban. Over the years Afghan warlords have double dealt each other with a vengeance. BTW, the spike in coalition deaths is in part due to Obama’s insane rules of engagement. The kicker is our troops have to make sure there are no civilians in the building they are receiving fire from. One troop noted that the Taliban have caught on and simply wait for our men to walk into their (Taliban) kill zone. Believe me a ‘kill zone’ is a very depressing place to find yourself. As a Vietnam Combat Vet, I would thrown my rifle and go to jail rather than fight under these restrictions. In closing, I don’t see any easy fix for our current situation. Up to our butt in a tar pit, allies bailing, troops burnt out, and the US public’s belief that there is an easy and quick fix.


    September 11, 2009 at 12:58 pm

  2. I don’t know why it is hard to believe. Al Qaeda hasn’t been operating in Afghanistan for a long time now. Petraeus said as much here:

    But he’s not the only one. Gen. McChrystal has just come out saying basically that al Qaeda is not in Afghanistan but does share a symbiotic relationship with the Taliban. McChyrstal’s quote is here:

    The other contention you make about protecting Pakistan from its own insurgency by staying in Afghanistan, glosses over the very fact that Pakistan was much more stable when our presence in Afghanistan wasn’t pushing Taliban into their country and contributing to an overall reputation that the Pakistan government is America’s puppet. We’re not doing anything in Afghanistan to make Pakistan safer, no matter what we want to believe. The best thing we have done for Pakistan lately was kill Baitullah Mehsud, and we did that with CIA and Xe operatives who are in Pakistan.

    The only sensible explanation for the be-in-Afghanistan-to-protect-Pakistan argument is (based on it being a given) the Pakistan government falls or loses some nukes, where then the US does an intervention across the durand line.


    September 11, 2009 at 2:41 pm

  3. GL,
    A quote from your link to Gen. McChryrsal,

    “McChrystal sent a “strategic assessment” of the war to U.S. and NATO leaders. He has not revealed its contents publicly, but said at the time that success in Afghanistan “is achievable and demands a revised implementation strategy, commitment and resolve, and increased unity of effort.”

    So if I am reading this correctly Gen. McChrystal clearly believe’s that pulling out of Afghanistan is not now, nor and in the near future, in the cards.

    I’ve suffered enough to know Generals usually hear what their subordinates want them to hear. To top that politicians think they know better than the brass how to win a war. Ask the ‘boot’ on the ground what’s up, he’ll tell you strait up what’s going on and who is full of crap.

    Well most people hedge their bets, General Officers and their political masters are not exempt. Your argument that al Qaeda has been defeated in the far east does ring true in my experience. Enemy tactic’s and strategy in unconventional warfare constantly evolve, you can be sure al Qaeda has morphed.


    September 11, 2009 at 4:51 pm

  4. […] Tufts graduate student wrote an interesting piece about the cost of war in Afghanistan: “How many years can we spend $68 billion in […]

  5. A quote from the La Flog article:

    “Yet, it has already been more than 8 years of “democracy/state-building“, even though AQ [al-Qaeda] hasn’t re-established a base there since October 2001. That was some sort of victory; maybe it is the only “victory” we need.”

    It is my understanding of the word al-Qaeda means ‘the base’. I don’t believe OBL ever envisioned ‘the base’ to mean a physical space, although it’s true he had training camps in Afghanistan and in 2001-2002 and they were physically destroyed, but the twisted philosophical foundation of al-Qaeda and OSB lives on. So in effect, announcing victory in Afghanistan and leaving, shows the fundamental weakness of our National resolve which has been amply demonstrated to the world in the later half of the 20th century. Intelligence in war is better than a million bullets, it’s obvious we sorely lack intelligence on the operational capabilities and intensions of al-Qaeda. I believe it will be many more bloody years before we do.

    Sorry for taking up so much bandwidth on this subject. This a great forum for inquiry and debate. Understand it’s a little more emotional for me because as a ‘old boot’, I’ve been there and done that, only to see so many lives destroyed, and for what? I’m still wondering……


    September 12, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    • This is why I like comments. You’re right: al Qaeda does mean “the base” but that is not what I meant when I said they haven’t had a base in Afghanistan since the US has been there in large presence. I meant they haven’t had training centers and could not operate in the open. Next time I’ll choose my words more wisely.

      I also think that as long as we have some sort of counter terrorism capabilities in Afghanistan it will be extremely dangerous for the roughly 200-500 full-blooded al Qaeda members to do anything substantial in Afghanistan. But it is more of an idea and an ideology that is a threat to us than it is an actual group of combatants. For this reason, our approach must encompass more than just kinetic uses of force.

      About the bandwidth: don’t worry about it. I appreciate (more than I can say) the dialogue. As a continuing student and ex-soldier myself, I realize that what I know is only a fraction of what I need to know. And I’ll take any constructive criticism I can get; and differing opinions are always great because of their ability to inform.


      September 12, 2009 at 2:39 pm

  6. GL,
    Thanks, and best of luck to you on your area of studies. As an ex-Soldier your time in Service to our Country has served you well. Keep up the Fire……


    September 12, 2009 at 3:05 pm

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