High cost of disengagement
The United States has spent nearly $600 billion over the past 10 years putting combat forces into Afghanistan. Now it's going to cost an additional $5.7 billion over the next year or two just to transfer or return most of the troops and equipment we shipped into that country, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office.
The size of the withdrawal is mind-boggling. But with the “fiscal cliff” approaching fast, it's worth taking a moment to realize that the costly Afghan operation is going on a credit card, along with the $1 trillion or more spent in Iraq.
Iraq and Afghanistan are the first U.S. wars in which the American public was not asked to pay a cent in additional taxes.
What were we thinking?
As I list the new expenses, consider who is going to pay for all this and when. Congress and President Obama are negotiating over increasing revenue and cutting spending, but the billions in Afghan withdrawal costs cannot be reduced and must be paid. Their payment will be considered next month when Congress faces an increase to the debt limit.
Meanwhile, the Defense Department estimates that the military services have more than 750,000 major items worth more than $36 billion in Afghanistan, including about 50,000 vehicles and more than 90,000 shipping containers of materiel, according to the GAO report.
In fiscal 2011, the U.S. Transportation Command shipped 268,000 tons of supplies — more than 42,000 containers — into Afghanistan via its northern surface routes, which involve truck and rail routing through European and Central Asian countries. Those supply routes were developed after truck convoys from Pakistan were halted in November 2011 in response to the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
The Iraq drawdown showed the importance of early planning. Withdrawal plans began in 2008, three years before the December 2011 final departure date of U.S. combat troops. In Afghanistan, the Marine Corps and Navy began withdrawal preparations in 2009, the Army in 2010.
The Marine Corps established an “equipment reset strategy” in which it created a “playbook” that contains what the GAO described as “a single, detailed accounting of each of its 78,168 major-end items in Afghanistan” along with “the initially forecast disposition instructions (return, transfer or destroy) for each item.”
Exiting Afghanistan is much more difficult, and more costly, than leaving Iraq. In Iraq, the United States had road access to the port of Umm Qasr and a major U.S. logistics base in Kuwait, just over the border. From there it was easy to ship materiel by sea from Jordanian and Kuwaiti ports.
Landlocked Afghanistan also has high-priority military equipment, including ammunition, shipped in by sea and then by air. It can cost up to $75,000 to return one vehicle by military air and sea transport and up to $153,000 using commercial carriers, according to the GAO. Sending a vehicle by surface routes can cost up to $43,000.
Is all this complicated? Yes. But it's worth paying attention to the dollar and human costs of getting into and out of military ventures so that perhaps the country will be better prepared next time.
Walter Pincus reports on intelligence, defense and foreign policy for The Washington Post.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pirates enter Plan B with Martin off market
- For Steelers, a fight to finish for playoff berth
- Church to host hunter breakfast
- Starkey: No explaining Steelers, AFC North
- Small retailers at intersection of social networks, foot traffic
- Penguins minor league notebook: Pouliot impresses early in season
- Springdale Library to pay rent to borough
- Alle-Kiski Valley slips into the holiday spirit with Light Up Night festivities
- New Foxes girls coach O’Shea inherits talented team
- For Pitt men’s basketball team, trouble in paradise
- Egypt’s beleaguered tourism industry bounces back