As the Obama administration expands U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, military experts are warning that the United States is taking on security and political commitments that will last at least a decade and a cost that will probably eclipse that of the Iraq war.
Since the invasion of Afghanistan eight years ago, the United States has spent $223 billion on war-related funding for that country, according to the Congressional Research Service. Aid expenditures, excluding the cost of combat operations, have grown exponentially, from $982 million in 2003 to $9.3 billion last year.
The costs are almost certain to keep growing. The Obama administration is in the process of overhauling the U.S. approach to Afghanistan, putting its focus on long-term security, economic sustainability and development. That approach is also likely to require deployment of more American military personnel, at the very least to train additional Afghan security forces.
Later this month, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, is expected to present his analysis of the situation in the country. The analysis could prompt an increase in U.S. troop levels to help implement President Obama's new strategy.
Military experts insist that the additional resources are necessary. But many, including some advising McChrystal, say they fear the public has not been made aware of the significant commitments that come with Washington's new policies.
"We will need a large combat presence for many years to come, and we will probably need a large financial commitment longer than that," said Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations and a member of the "strategic assessment" team advising McChrystal. The expansion of the Afghan security force that the general will recommend to secure the country "will inevitably cost much more than any imaginable Afghan government is going to be able to afford on its own," Biddle added.
The Brits are even less optimistic. The new UK Army Chief, General Sir David Richards is currently catching shit from far and wide for his unvarnished assessment of just how long it might take to win a war in Afghanistan:
In an interview published yesterday, Richards warned that it would “take time” to save Afghanistan: “This is nation-building — not the starry-eyed type, but nation-building none the less. It is not just reconstruction; jobs and simple governance that works are the key ... The army’s role will evolve, but the whole process might take as long as 30 or 40 years.”
The most ironic part of the whole UK debate is the dynamic that a Liberal Democratic MP advanced to explain why the war would end much sooner:
The prediction was also dismissed by Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat MP, who insisted that a much earlier withdrawal would be necessary. “Forty years may be the military estimate, but political opinion in this country will never support a commitment of that length,” he said.
“In Afghanistan, Britain is subordinate to the United States and you can bet your life Barack Obama will not wish to run a campaign for re-election as president with an openended obligation.”
Hold that thought.