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Collateral Damage: Cost to Field of Each US Soldier in Afghanistan Soars to $2.1 Million

RT (10/25/13)

The cost of keeping each American soldier in Afghanistan is set to nearly double to 2.1 million, at the same time that crucial sectors of the US military are underfunded, according to a new analysis of the Pentagon’s budget.

US military planners are scrambling to explain why the cost has ballooned to $2.1 million, after holding steady at $1.3 million annually for the past five years.

The budget for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) acknowledges a 39 percent reduction in US forces in Afghanistan, yet total expenditures for the operation drops by only 10 percent.

Pentagon officials blame the additional cost on shutting down bases and shipping equipment and personnel back home as forces evacuate Afghanistan, but not everybody agrees with this explanation as to why the cost per soldier has dramatically increased.

“One would also expect to have observed a similar increase in costs when these forces were initially deployed to Afghanistan,” said Todd Harrison, a researcher with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Analysis.

“It was a bit of a shocker to me,” Harrison told Defense One, a military newsletter.

During the surge years of 2010 and 2011, when additional troops and equipment were shipped into Afghanistan, military bases were built or expanded, and new equipment was purchased, there was no visible increase in expenditures, he explained in his report, titled: “Chaos and Uncertainty.”

“These initial deployment costs could in theory be greater than redeployment costs, especially given that large amounts of equipment are not being returned to the United States during the drawdown currently underway,” Harrison reasoned in the report.

Indeed, much of the military hardware in Afghanistan is being turned into scrap metal as the 12-year military operation enters its planned last phase.

It was reported in June that US officials in Afghanistan are engaged in a“massive disposal effort, which US military officials call unprecedented that entails  the United States scrapping more than $7 billion worth of equipment…because it is no longer needed or would be too costly to ship back home.”

The US military has already destroyed more than 77,000 metric tons of military equipment.

The budget analyst said costs associated with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, as well as the support structure for troops on the ground remains “are not likely to decline,” despite a drop in the number of military personnel stationed in the Central Asian hotspot.

Harrison also notes the cost of training and equipping Afghan security forces – who will be required to fill the security void when US forces complete their exit to the tune of $7.7 billion – as yet another reason for the rising cost of the Afghan war.

Included in the higher cost per service member is the cost of private contractors used to perform military functions previously performed by military personnel, such as “laundry, food service, maintenance, and some security functions.”

All of these factors have contributed to make the Afghan war exceedingly expensive for the US taxpayer.

To spend or not to spend
Ironically, as the price tag associated with fielding US soldiers in Afghanistan goes through the roof, US military spending is suffering major setbacks on other fronts.

At an annual conference for the Association of the US Army held this week, military leaders spoke out on spending cuts that are having a negative impact on the armed forces.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno revealed that just two Army brigades are combat-ready since the cuts forced the Pentagon to cancel six months of military training.

“And there’s going to come a time when we just simply don’t have enough money to provide what I believe to be the right amount of ground forces to [carry out]… contingency operations,” Odierno told reporters.

A brigade is comprised of between 3,200 and 5,000 soldiers.

“The worst-case scenario is you ask me to deploy thousands of soldiers somewhere and we have not properly trained them to go because we simply don’t have the dollars and money because of the way sequestration is laid out,” Odierno added, referring to automatic budget cuts.

Harrison’s report, meanwhile, compares the current military drawdown with the Vietnam era, suggesting expenditures “could fall to roughly $62 billion, the level reached at the end of the 1980s.” The author goes on to warn that a drop in military funding could result in major programs being canceled or delayed, “such as the Joint Strike Fighter, the next-generation bomber, and the expanded payload module for Virginia class submarines.”

Such a turn of events for the US military, which at the present time seems unfathomable considering the heady levels of spending, as well as the power that defense industry lobbyists now enjoy in Congress, would “adversely affect the future capability of US forces, particularly in a more contested environment than that experienced in either Iraq or Afghanistan.”

The next government sequester is set to take place in January 2014, which could see the Defense Department’s budget slashed by $21 billion.


Operation Junkyard: US Scrapping ‘tons’ of Pricey Equipment as Afghan Exit Looms

RT (6/20/13)

As the US military prepares to complete its withdrawal from Afghanistan next year, it is deliberately destroying billions of dollars worth of sophisticated equipment, according to The Washington Post.

The US military is confronted with the logistical problem of what to do with millions of pounds worth of vehicles and other military equipment presently parked in Afghanistan, where the United States is winding down a nearly 12-year military operation.

Instead of donating the equipment to the fledgling Afghan security forces, who are expected to keep the peace following the US pullout, or perhaps selling the equipment to some third-party nation, the US will engage in a “massive disposal effort, which US military officials call unprecedented,” the Washington Post reported.

In total, the US military will not be shipping home “more than $7 billion worth of equipment — about 20 percent of what the US military has in Afghanistan — because it is no longer needed or would be too costly to ship back home,” the report continued.

The US military has already destroyed more than 77,000 metric tons of military equipment, it added.

According to the Post, donating all that military equipment to the Afghan contingency “would be challenging because of complicated rules governing equipment donations to other countries.” At the same time, there is concern that Afghanistan’s fledgling forces would end up shooting itself in the proverbial foot with all that lethal hardware lying around.

This begs the question: What is the purpose of US military advisers hanging around in Afghanistan after next year’s withdrawal if not to give advice on such crucial matters?

As for selling the equipment to “allied nations,” that possibility was also brushed aside because “few are likely to be able to retrieve it from the war zone.”  But if Afghanistan is still considered to be a “war zone” why are US forces in such a hurry to exit?

That leaves the US military, Uncle Sam’s prodigal son, with just one option, which is a bit hard to fathom in the post-crisis age of belt-tightening austerity measures: Call in the Afghan scrap dealers to cut up and haul away the equipment that will eventually be sold for “pennies per pound on the Afghan scrap market.”

The Post article floats the argument that the scrapping of military hardware“reflects a presumptive end to an era of protracted ground wars.” However, it could also mark the start of another round of expensive weapon procurements courtesy of the ‘military-industrial complex’ that at least one former US leader has warned on.

After all, when the final tally is made as to how much military equipment the US military ‘lost’ in the 12-year war in Afghanistan, it will certainly not hurt the bottom line of defense industry contractors if the loss is considered significant.

However, as the article admits, the scrapping of “tons of equipment is all but certain to raise sharp questions in Afghanistan and the United States about whether the Pentagon’s approach is fiscally responsible and whether it should find ways to leave a greater share to the Afghans.”

Pricey MRAPs to be junked

Much of the military scrapping process involves the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, which the Pentagon mass-produced in 2007 to counter the threat of roadside improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Afghanistan.

In May 2007, then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called the acquisition of MRAPs the Department of Defense’s highest priority. In total, more than 24,000 MRAPs were built for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, ultimately costing taxpayers an estimated $ 45 billion dollars, according to Pentagon figures.

In Afghanistan, the military has categorized around 2,000 of some 11,000 MRAPs “excess,” the Post reported. Of these, about 9,000 will be shipped to the United States and US “military bases in Kuwait and elsewhere.”

The majority of the unwanted vehicles, which cost taxpayers about $1 million each, will be sold to Afghan scrap dealers.

“MRAPs have served us well in the current war, but we will not need all that we bought for Iraq and Afghanistan in the future,” Alan Estevez, the assistant secretary of defense for logistics and materiel readiness, said in a statement. “It is cost prohibitive to retrograde and reset MRAPs that we do not need for the future.”

The MRAPs that the Pentagon has decided to scrap have been arriving “by the dozen” at junkyards at four US bases in Afghanistan in recent months.

Although the move to send millions of dollars’ worth of MRAPs to the junkyard could be interpreted as the “end of protracted ground wars,” it could signal the dawn of drone warfare, which has increased exponentially since the early days of the war in Afghanistan.


Each Injured US Soldier Will End Up Costing $2 Million On Average

By David Francis 
The Fiscal Times (6/15/14)

For every one of the 866,181 soldiers officially counted injured casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, the government is expected to spend some $2 million in long-term medical cost.

The total of $1.7 trillion is based on a widely cited March 2013 paper by Linda Bilmes at Harvard’s Kennedy School. It includes $800 billion already spent on injured veterans along with   the cost of long-term care for an additional 50,000 current casualties counted by the Pentagon.

Since 2001, the VA has spent $134.3 billion to care for veterans. VA spokesperson Genevieve Billia said the department does not produce cost estimates over decades, but that the VA “plans to spend $6.9 billion in 2013, $7.6 billion in 2014 and  $8.0 billion in 2015.”

The $2 million per casualty figure is in no way an attempt to quantify how much each individual life is worth. But it does serve as a stark reminder of how the United States and its veterans will be suffering from choices made in Afghanistan and Iraq for decades to come.

It also is a reminder that the U.S. financial commitment to the wars does not end with troop withdrawal. Soldiers might be leaving, but they’re taking with them injuries that will take years to treat. In many cases, they’ll be dealing with them for the rest of their lives.

“The years of conflict have left America still burdened with heavy costs, even with the ground combat phase drawing to a close,” Bilmes wrote in the report. “These costs include the immediate requirements to provide medical care for the wounded, as well as the accrued liabilities for providing lifetime medical costs and disability compensation for those who have survived injuries.”

Cost drivers

The first major driver of cost is the number of people who are eligible for and claiming veterans’ benefits. In earlier research, Bilmes suggested that roughly 40 percent of soldiers would use them. But as veterans return home, she’s found her original estimates to be too low. She now believes that 56 percent of all Iran and Afghanistan veterans will apply for veterans’ assistance at some point in their lives.

“Of those who had been discharged, about half of them have applied for disability benefits and more than half have been treated in the Veterans Administration system,” Bilmes told The Fiscal Times.

Disability costs are also on the rise. According to Bilmes, 783,623 soldiers –”one out of every two veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan,” she writes – have already applied for long-term disability payments. More than 670,000 have already been granted, while only 15,521 have been denied.

Bilmes said that the nature of injuries suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan, including amputation and PTSD, likely means the 1 million soldiers still in the military are more likely to seek disability payments in the future.

“We’ve seen so far that there’s been an enormous increase from previous wars for those claiming disability,” Bilmes said. In Vietnam the typical compliant would cite three disabling conditions. The average claim now has 8 disabling conditions.”

Lastly, the premium cost of TRICARE, the health care program for active duty soldiers and their families is far below the price on the open market. Bilmes illustrates this in the chart below

Karzai Admits to Being on Secret US Payroll

RT (4/29/14)

Top Afghan officials have been on the CIA’s payroll for over a decade, receiving tens of millions of US dollars in cash. Afghan President Hamid Karzai admitted to receiving the clandestine financial support, but dismissed the sum as a “small amount.”

A New York Times report has revealed that unparalleled corruption in the Afghan government has been encouraged by the US Central Intelligence Agency. Since the start of the decade-long war, CIA agents have delivered cash to Afghan officials in “suitcases, backpacks and, on occasion, plastic shopping bags.”

“We called it ‘ghost money,’” said Khalil Roman, President Hamid Karzai’s former chief of staff from 2002 to 2005, adding that it “came in secret, and it left in secret.” There is no evidence that President Karzai was a recipient of any of the money, as Afghan officials claim the cash was distributed by president’s National Security Council, the report said.

Some senior National Security Council officials have also been on the CIA’s payroll, and the payoffs have only increased over time: “We paid them to overthrow the Taliban,” a US official told the NYT.

Cash was also paid out to lesser Afghan politicians and officials reportedly connected to drug production and trafficking, those with alleged ties to the Taliban, and to insurgent warlords bribed not to interfere in covert operations. “They [CIA] will work with criminals if they think they have to,” a former US official said.

On Monday Afghan President Hamid Karzai Monday acknowledged his office had been receiving funds from the CIA over the past decade, but dismissed the monthly cash payments as “a small amount,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“Yes, the office of the national security has been receiving support from the United States for the past 10 years,” the daily cites Karzai as telling reporters at a news briefing in Helsinki, Finland. “Monthly. Not a big amount. A small amount which has been used for various purposes,” he continued.

Karzai said the CIA funds had been used on “various, operational purposes of providing assistance to the wounded, the sick, to certain rents for houses, to all other purposes.”

Neither the CIA nor the US State Department commented on the report…

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