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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

 
The money pit nobody's talking about

by digby

Your little factoid 'o the day:

The American-led military coalition in Afghanistan backed off Tuesday from its claim that Taliban attacks dropped off in 2012, tacitly acknowledging a hole in its widely repeated argument that violence is easing and that the insurgency is in steep decline.

In response to Associated Press inquiries about its latest series of statistics on security in Afghanistan, the coalition command in Kabul said it had erred in reporting a 7 percent decline in attacks. In fact there was no decline at all, officials said.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who is among the senior officials who had publicly repeated the assertion of an encouraging drop-off in Taliban attacks last year, was disturbed to learn of the error, said his spokesman, George Little.

“This particular set of metrics doesn’t tell the full story of progress against the Taliban, of course, but it’s unhelpful to have inaccurate information in our systems,” Little said.

So the Afghan surge isn't a rousing success after all? Who knew?

And as we consider all this talk about budgets and cutbacks, perhaps we should take a moment to consider this from Joseph Stiglitz:

The direct costs of the war are already $700bn. The original mission was to root out al-Qaeda and the Taliban. But in 2003, the US shifted nearly all of its attention and resources to Iraq. The Taliban regrouped and strengthened in Afghanistan, making the conflict far more expensive. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda shifted operations into Pakistan, Yemen and Mali, where France this month sent troops.

US forces have struggled in Afghanistan’s mountainous terrain, where getting supplies and munitions has been a complex logistical exercise. Then came the ill-fated “surge” strategy, which put 30,000 more US troops on the ground with little if any military gain. There were 3,000 attacks on US and allied forces in 2012 – a figure little changed from 2009, when President Barack Obama’s administration decided on the change in strategy.

The surge itself was expensive. But the way we conducted the war unnecessarily increased its costs. For instance, the closure of the land route through Pakistan for eight months in reprisal for a US drone attack in November 2011 that inadvertently killed 24 Pakistani soldiers added billions to the transport bill. Another $90bn has been devoted to “reconstruction” aid in Afghanistan – the largest amount spent by the US since the Marshall plan, with little to show for it. Endemic corruption among local contractors and officials has drained money from the budget.

Much of this red ink will dry up once Nato troops withdraw. But the true cost of the war is only just beginning. Indeed, the costs after withdrawal may exceed those during the war. Choices made in the past decade mean high costs for years to come – and will constrain other national security spending.
In 2008, when we wrote The Three Trillion Dollar War , our book on the costs of the Iraq war, we predicted that costs of disability and healthcare benefits for recent war veterans would grow enormously. With nearly one in two returning troops suffering some form of disability – ranging from depression to multiple amputation – the reality far exceeds our estimates. The number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans receiving government medical care has grown to more than 800,000, and most have applied for permanent disability benefits. Yielding to political pressure, the White House and Congress have boosted veteran’s benefits, invested in additional staff and technology, expanded mental health treatments and made it easier to qualify for disability pay. But the number of claims keeps climbing. The Department of Veterans’ Affairs struggles to cope with its backlog.

The VA’s budget is likely to hit $140bn this year from $50bn in 2001...Meanwhile, there is a huge price tag for replacing ordinary equipment that has been consumed during the wars – not least because of our policy of outsourcing maintenance to sometimes dodgy local contractors. There is also the US pledge to help prop up the Afghan police and army for the next decade – expected to run to $5bn-$8bn a year. The legacy of expensive commitments will force the Pentagon to make difficult choices – for example, reducing the size of the army and investing in more unmanned robotic weapons.

The US has already borrowed $2tn to finance the Afghanistan and Iraq wars – a major component of the $9tn debt accrued since 2001, along with those arising from the financial crisis and the tax cuts implemented by President George W. Bush. Today, as the country considers how to improve its balance sheet, it could have been hoped that the ending of the wars would provide a large peace dividend, such as the one resulting from the end of the cold war that helped us to invest more in butter and less in guns. Instead, the legacy of poor decision-making from the expensive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will live on in a continued drain on our economy – long after the last troop returns to American soil.

With all this soul searching about "what we can afford" and "sacrifice" and all the rest, I haven't heard much discussion about this. Considering the vast sums involved you'd think someone would at least put it up for debate. Could we at least talk about whether it was worth it?



More on the success/failure of the surge, here.

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