War Funding Request Denotes 68,000 Troops Through Late 2013
By Matt Southworth on 02/21/2012 @ 11:50 PM
It’s no secret that war is expensive. The U.S. has spent over $1,400,000,000,000 ($1.4 trillion) in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001. This figure represents operational costs, not long term costs such as veteran care, which will rise for decades to come. However, looking at the fiscal year 2013 war funding request, you might think war is getting less expensive. Not quite. Funding overall is on the decline, yes, but the war in Afghanistan still costs $1 million per soldier, per year.
Overall, war funding is on the decline because of troop withdrawals from Iraq. Afghanistan funding is also down due to troop withdrawals. The Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 funding request for Afghanistan (known as Overseas Contingency Operations, OCO) is $88.5 billion, approximately $26 billion less than what was appropriated in FY 2012. But there is a hitch: the FY13 request assumes that 68,000 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan through September 2013, when the fiscal year ends.
This seems at odds with what President Obama said back in June 2011 about troop withdrawals. While announcing the removal of 33,000 U.S. troops by September of this year, the president said:
“After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan security forces move into the lead. Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.”
The projections do seem to square with the Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s February first announcement that U.S. troops will end combat operations by mid 2013, and then switch to an advisory role. If there are to be no reductions in troop levels for the entire 2013 fiscal year—keeping levels around 68,000—then the Panetta’s announcement would directly contradict the “steady” pace of reduction President Obama called for in June 2011.
The tide of war is supposed to be receding but appears to remain steady for the next 18 months. Moreover, it is this lack of clarity that is leading to instability and driving Afghanistan towards civil war.
If the Pentagon is not planning on a larger troop presence than called for by President Obama, then they have exaggerated their funding needs—possibly to starve off other spending reductions in the base budget. This appears to be classic political jockying between the White House and Pentagon, all while the lives of U.S. troops and Afghan civilians are on the line. It is reprehensible political posturing.
These funding and troop requests come at a troubling time policy wise. Present political talks are teetering on failure. A recently published report written by LT. Colonel Daniel Davis offers a scathing analysis of the war, concluding that the military mission has had an “absence of success on virtually every level” and is ultimately futile. Davis also notes that military commanders have not given honest assessments about what is happening on the ground in the country. As a consequence, the strategy to arm and train a large Afghan army is also faltering.
Congressional and public support are both waning as well. Last week, 88 member of the House—including Adam Smith (WA), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee—sent a letter led by Reps. Jim McGovern (MA) and Walter Jones (NC) supporting an accelerated withdrawal to President Obama. Additionally, 30 organizations, led by FCNL, sent a letter to members of the House supporting the congressional effort—an imperfect policy to be sure, but a step in the right direction.
Public support has been fading for some time. According to a new Ramussen pole, 67% of American public supports President Obama’s current timeline for ending the war. Additionally, a recent ABC News/Washington Post survey found that the public supports the drawdown of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by a 78%-19% margin. With numbers like these, Congress is feeling the pressure to end the decade long war.
So then, this raises the question: why stay one more year? Why even stay one more day? Why spend another $88 billion on the U.S. war in Afghanistan? The war strategy has failed to deliver stability and peace and will not do so while troops remain in the county. Therefore, the U.S. should begin an immediate military withdrawal and focus on the political settlement aspect of this conflict—what I call the long-view. To be sure, it will not be easy or quick, but it is necessary.
As we move closer to May and the NATO Summit on Afghanistan in Chicago, President Obama will have an opportunity take bold policy steps, potentially bringing a close to a very war and even longer conflict. But this will only happen if we all keep the pressure on.