FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Costs of the Afghanistan War

by WINSLOW T. WHEELER

Telling us how many dollars have been spent on the war in Afghanistan is fundamental to the Department of Defense’s (DOD) effort to garner public and congressional support for prosecution of the war. It should also be a simple question. It is not.

The Department of Defense (DOD) testified to Congress on July 31, 2007 that the war in Afghanistan had cost $78.1 billion. The seeming precision of the decimal point notwithstanding, the number is laughably inaccurate. Here’s why:

The 78.1 billion is DOD “obligations” as of May 2007. Obligations are neither Congress’s appropriations nor the amount DOD has actually spent. Instead, DOD describes them as “orders placed, contracts awarded, services received, or similar transactions that will require payments.” In short, obligations are what DOD thinks it might spend. For DOD’s obligations for Afghanistan going as far back as 2001, there has been no effort by the department to document what was actually spent.

The obligations declared by DOD for Afghanistan are not just for Afghanistan. They are for Operation Enduring Freedom, which includes Afghanistan but also DOD operations in the Horn of Africa, the Philippines, and “elsewhere” (DOD’s term). The Defense Department has not informed the public, or apparently even Congress, how those costs break down.

DOD’s obligations also do not include transfers of funds from regular, annual appropriations from the non-war part of the DOD budget. These may be as much as $7 billion for both Iraq and Afghanistan. There is also an additional $5.5 billion that analysts at the Congressional Research Services (CRS) believe was made available for expenditure in Iraq and Afghanistan but which no one has been able to track.

DOD’s figures also do not include classified intelligence activities. According to CRS, Congress appropriated $27 billion for intelligence efforts related to both Iraq and Afghanistan. The breakdown between the two is unknown to the public and perhaps to Congress.

DOD’s figures also do not include the costs incurred by the State Department for diplomatic operations and reconstruction aid in Afghanistan and it does not include costs to the Veterans Administration (VA) to care for the US wounded coming home from there. The future VA cost to care for Afghan War veterans is only beginning to accrue now; it will be many billions of dollars.

Funding for Iraq and Afghanistan has included huge amounts that have little or no real relationship to the wars. This spending includes piles of money for C-17, C-130J, V-22 and other aircraft that would see the skies over either theater only if the wars are still raging three to five years from now when these aircraft actually come off their production lines. Several billions of dollars have also been requested to fund the Army’s reorganization into “modular” brigades– a plan that precedes the wars by several years and that would be funded without them. Despite their weak relationship to the fighting, this and other problematic spending has all appeared in Congress’ “emergency” appropriations for the wars and, thus, should be included in the accounting of the funding for them.

DOD has combined whatever records it retains for money spent in Afghanistan with the money spent for all other DOD purposes. As such, the money actually spent for Afghanistan– and Iraq– cannot be separated and identified; it is unknown today, and thanks to DOD’s record keeping it is unknowable for the ages.

Surveying this fiscal junkyard in its May 18 report to Congress, “Global War on Terror: Reported Obligations for the Department of Defense,” the Government Accountability Office (GAO) termed DOD’s spending data on the wars “to be of questionable reliability” and “should be considered approximations.” The auditors at GAO are well practiced at understatement on such subjects.

Rather than just curse the darkness, CRS has attempted to sort through the morass to make estimates of what has been available to DOD for Afghanistan under the moniker Operation Enduring Freedom. The latest results, from CRS’ “The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11, Updated July 16, 2007,” are shown in the table below:

Appropriations Estimated by CRS for Operation Enduring Freedom, $Billions, Current Dollars, by Fiscal Year.

Year

Winslow T. Wheeler is the Director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Project on Government Oversight.  He spent 31 years working for the Government Accountability Office and both Republican and Democratic Senators on national security issues.

More articles by:
July 27, 2016
Richard Moser
The Party’s Over
M. G. Piety
Smoke and Mirrors in Philadelphia
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Humiliation Games: Notes on the Democratic Convention
Arun Gupta
Bernie Sanders’ Political Revolution Splinters Apart
John Eskow
The Loneliness of the American Leftist
Guillermo R. Gil
A Metaphoric Short Circuit: On Michelle Obama’s Speech at the DNC
Norman Pollack
Sanders, Our Tony Blair: A Defamation of Socialism
Claire Rater, Carol Spiegel and Jim Goodman
Consumers Can Stop the Overuse of Antibiotics on Factory Farms
Guy D. Nave
Make America Great Again?
Sam Husseini
Why Sarah Silverman is a Comedienne
Dave Lindorff
No Crooked Sociopaths in the White House
Dan Bacher
The Hired Gun: Jerry Brown Snags Bruce Babbitt as New Point Man For Delta Tunnels
Peter Lee
Trumputin! And the DNC Leak(s)
David Macaray
Interns Are Exploited and Discriminated Against
Brett Warnke
Storm Clouds Over Philly
Ann Garrison
Rwanda, the Clinton Dynasty, and the Case of Dr. Léopold Munyakazi
Chris Zinda
Snakes of Deseret
July 26, 2016
Andrew Levine
Pillory Hillary Now
Kshama Sawant
A Call to Action: Walk Out from the Democratic National Convention!
Russell Mokhiber
The Rabble Rise Together Against Bernie, Barney, Elizabeth and Hillary
Jeffrey St. Clair
Don’t Cry For Me, DNC: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Angie Beeman
Why Doesn’t Middle America Trust Hillary? She Thinks She’s Better Than Us and We Know It
Paul Street
An Update on the Hate…
Fran Shor
Beyond Trump vs Clinton
Ellen Brown
Japan’s “Helicopter Money” Play: Road to Hyperinflation or Cure for Debt Deflation?
Richard W. Behan
The Banana Republic of America: Democracy Be Damned
Binoy Kampmark
Undermining Bernie Sanders: the DNC Campaign, WikiLeaks and Russia
Arun Gupta
Trickledown Revenge: the Racial Politics of Donald Trump
Sen. Bernard Sanders
What This Election is About: Speech to DNC Convention
David Swanson
DNC Now Less Popular Than Atheism
Linn Washington Jr.
‘Clintonville’ Reflects True Horror of Poverty in US
Deepak Tripathi
Britain in the Doldrums After the Brexit Vote
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Threats: Arbitrary Lines on Political Maps
Robert J. Gould
Proactive Philanthropy: Don’t Wait, Reach Out!
Victor Grossman
Horror and Sorrow in Germany
Nyla Ali Khan
Regionalism, Ethnicity, and Trifurcation: All in the Name of National Integration
Andrew Feinberg
The Good TPP
400 US Academics
Letter to US Government Officials Concerning Recent Events in Turkey
July 25, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
As the Election Turns: Trump the Anti-Neocon, Hillary the New Darling of the Neocons
Ted Rall
Hillary’s Strategy: Snub Liberal Democrats, Move Right to Nab Anti-Trump Republicans
William K. Black
Doubling Down on Wall Street: Hillary and Tim Kaine
Russell Mokhiber
Bernie Delegates Take on Bernie Sanders
Quincy Saul
Resurgent Mexico
Andy Thayer
Letter to a Bernie Activist
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan is Strengthened by the Failed Coup, But Turkey is the Loser
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail