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

More articles by:

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.

Weekend Edition
November 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jonathan Cook
From an Open Internet, Back to the Dark Ages
Linda Pentz Gunter
A Radioactive Plume That’s Clouded in Secrecy
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Fires This Time
Nick Alexandrov
Birth of a Nation
Vijay Prashad
Puerto Rico: Ruined Infrastructure and a Refugee Crisis
Peter Montague
Men in Power Abusing Women – What a Surprise!
Kristine Mattis
Slaves and Bulldozers, Plutocrats and Widgets
Pete Dolack
Climate Summit’s Solution to Global Warming: More Talking
Mike Whitney
ISIS Last Stand; End Times for the Caliphate
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima Darkness, Part Two
James Munson
Does Censoring Undemocratic Voices Make For Better Democracy?
Brian Cloughley
The Influence of Israel on Britain
Jason Hickel
Averting the Apocalypse: Lessons From Costa Rica
Pepe Escobar
How Turkey, Iran, Russia and India are playing the New Silk Roads
Jan Oberg
Why is Google’s Eric Schmidt So Afraid?
Ezra Rosser
Pushing Back Against the Criminalization of Poverty
Kathy Kelly
The Quality of Mercy
Myles Hoenig
A Ray Moore Win Could be a Hidden Gift to Progressives
Gerry Brown
Myanmar Conflict: Geopolitical Food Chain
Matthew Stevenson
Into Africa: Robert Redford’s Big Game in Nairobi
Katrina Kozarek
Venezuela’s Communes: a Great Social Achievement
Zoltan Grossman
Olympia Train Blockade Again Hits the Achilles Heel of the Fracking Industry
Binoy Kampmark
History, Law and Ratko Mladić
Tommy Raskin
Why Must We Sanction Russia?
Bob Lord
Trump’s Tax Plan Will Cost a Lot More Than Advertised
Ralph Nader
National Democratic Party – Pole Vaulting Back into Place
Julian Vigo
If Sexual Harassment and Assault Were Treated Like Terrorism
Russell Mokhiber
Still Blowing Smoke for Big Tobacco: John Boehner and College Ethics
Ted Rall
Sexual Harassment and the End of Team Politics
Anna Meyer
Your Tax Dollars are Funding GMO Propaganda
Barbara Nimri Aziz
An Alleged Communist and Prostitute in Nepal’s Grade Ten Schoolbooks!
Myles Hoenig
A Ray Moore Win Could be a Hidden Gift to Progressives
Graham Peebles
What Price Humanity? Systemic Injustice, Human Suffering
Kim C. Domenico
To Not Walk Away: the Challenge of Compassion in the Neoliberal World
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Giving Thanks for Our Occupation of America?
Christy Rodgers
The First Thanksgiving
Charles R. Larson
Review: Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “We Were Eight Years in Power”
November 23, 2017
Kenneth Surin
Discussing Trump Abroad
Jay Moore
The Failure of Reconstruction and Its Consequences
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
Trout and Ethnic Cleansing
John W. Whitehead
Don’t Just Give Thanks, Pay It Forward One Act of Kindness at a Time
Chris Zinda
Zinke’s Reorganization of the BLM Will Continue Killing Babies
David Krieger
Progress Toward Nuclear Weapons Abolition
Rick Baum
While Public Education is Being Attacked: An American Federation of Teachers Petition Focuses on Maintaining a Minor Tax Break
Paul C. Bermanzohn
The As-If Society
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail