– US spends $23 billion on Afghan contracts so far (Reuters)
– Up to 56000 more contractors likely for Afghanistan, congressional agency says (Washington Post)
– Afghan surge troops won’t target drug crops (Reuters)
The sum of US$57,077.60. That’s what the United States is paying per minute. Keep that in mind – just for a minute or so.
After all, the surge is already on. By the end of December, the first 1,500 of 30,000 additional US troops will have landed in Afghanistan, a nation roughly the size of Texas, ranked by the United Nations as second-worst in the world in terms of human development.
Women and men from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, will be among the first to head out. It takes an estimated $1 million to send each of them surging into Afghanistan for one year. So a 30,000-person surge will be at least $30 billion, which brings us to that $57,077.60. That’s how much it will cost the US taxpayer, for one minute of that surge.
By the way, add up the yearly salary of one US Marine Corps soldier from Camp Lejeune with four years of service, throw in his or her housing allowance, additional pay for dependents, and bonus pay for hazardous duty, imminent danger, and family separation, and you’ll still be many thousands of dollars short of that single minute’s sum.
But perhaps this isn’t a time to quibble. After all, a job is a job, especially in the United States, which has lost seven million jobs since December 2007, while reporting record-high numbers of people seeking assistance to feed themselves and/or their families. According to the US Department of Agriculture, 36 million Americans, including one out of every four children, are currently on food stamps.
On the other hand, given the woeful inadequacy of that “safety net”, we might have chosen to direct the $30 billion in surge expenditures toward raising the average individual monthly Food Stamp allotment by $70 for the next year; that’s roughly an additional trip to the grocery store, every month, for 36 million people. Alternatively, we could have dedicated that $30 billion to job-creation. According to a recent report issued by the Political Economy Research Institute, that sum could generate a whopping 537,810 construction jobs, 541,080 positions in healthcare, fund 742,740 teachers or employ 831,390 mass transit workers.
For purposes of comparison, $30 billion – remember, just the Pentagon-estimated cost of a 30,000-person troop surge – is equal to 80% of the total US 2010 budget for international affairs, which includes monies for development and humanitarian assistance. On the domestic front, $30 billion could double the funding (at 2010 levels) for the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
Or think of the surge this way: if the US decided to send just 29,900 extra soldiers to Afghanistan, 100 short of the present official total, it could double the amount of money – $100 million – it has allocated to assist refugees and returnees from Afghanistan through the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.
Leaving aside the fact that the US already accounts for 45% of total global military spending, the $30 billion surge cost alone would place us in the top 10 for global military spending, sandwiched between Italy and Saudi Arabia. Spent instead on “soft security” measures within Afghanistan, $30 billion could easily build, furnish and equip enough schools for the entire nation.
Continuing this nod to the absurd for just one more moment, if you received a silver dollar every second, it would take you 960 years to haul in that $30 billion. Not that anyone could hold so much money. Together, the coins would weigh nearly 120,000 tons, or more than the poundage of 21,000 Asian elephants, an aircraft carrier, or the Washington Monument. Converted to dollar bills and laid end-to-end, $30 billion would reach 2.9 million miles (4.7 million kilometers) or 120 times around the Earth.
One more thing, that $30 billion isn’t even the real cost of President Barack Obama’s surge. It’s just a minimum, through-the-basement estimate. If you were to throw in all the bases being built, private contractors hired, extra civilians sent in, and the staggering costs of training a larger Afghan army and police force (a key goal of the surge), the figure would surely be startlingly higher.
In fact, total Afghanistan war spending for 2010 is now expected to exceed $102.9 billion, doubling last year’s spending. Thought of another way, it breaks down to $12 million per hour in taxpayer dollars for one year. That’s equal to total annual US spending on all veteran’s benefits, from hospital stays to education.
In Afghan terms, the US’s upcoming single year of war costs represents nearly five times that country’s gross domestic product, or $3,623.70 for every Afghan woman, man and child. Given that the average annual salary for an Afghan soldier is $2,880 and many Afghans seek employment in the military purely out of economic desperation, this might be a wise investment – especially since the Taliban are able to pay considerably more for their new recruits. In fact, recent increases in much-needed Afghan recruits appear to correlate with the promise of a pay raise.
All of this is, so much fantasy, since we know just where that $30-plus billion will be going. In 2010, total Afghanistan war spending since November 2001 will exceed $325 billion, which equals the combined annual military spending of Great Britain, China, France, Japan, Germany, Russia and Saudi Arabia. If we had never launched an invasion of Afghanistan or stayed on fighting all these years, those war costs, evenly distributed in this country, would have meant a $2,298.80 dividend per US taxpayer.
Even as we calculate the annual cost of war, the tens of thousands of Asian elephants in the room are all pointing to $1 trillion in total war costs for Iraq and Afghanistan. The current escalation in Afghanistan coincides with that rapidly approaching milestone. In fact, thanks to Peter Baker’s recent New York Times report on the presidential deliberations that led to the surge announcement, we know that the trillion-dollar number for both wars may be a gross underestimate. The Office of Management and Budget sent Obama a memo, Baker tells us, suggesting that adding General Stanley McChrystal’s surge to ongoing war costs, over the next 10 years, could mean – forget Iraq – a trillion dollar Afghan war.
At just under one-third of the 2010 US federal budget, $1 trillion essentially defies per-hour-per-soldier calculations. It dwarfs all other nations’ military spending, let alone their spending on war. It makes a mockery of food stamps and schools. To make sense of this cost, we need to leave civilian life behind entirely and turn to another war. We have to reach back to the Vietnam War, which in today’s dollars cost $709.9 billion – or $300 billion less than the total cost of the two wars the US is still fighting, with no end in sight, or even $300 billion less than the long war that may yet be fought in Afghanistan.
Jo Comerford is the executive director of the National Priorities Project. Previously, she served as director of programs at the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and directed the American Friends Service Committee’s justice and peace-related community organizing efforts in western Massachusetts.
Dec 19, 2009
By Jo Comerford
Source: Asia Times
The endless war on terror:
– Obama: ‘I will promise you this, that if we have not gotten our troops out by the time I am President, it is the first thing I will do. I will get our troops home. We will bring an end to this war. You can take that to the bank.’
Murray asserts that the primary motivation for US and British military involvement in central Asia has to do with large natural gas deposits in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. As evidence, he points to the plans to build a natural gas pipeline through Afghanistan that would allow Western oil companies to avoid Russia and Iran when transporting natural gas out of the region.
Murray alleged that in the late 1990s the Uzbek ambassador to the US met with then-Texas Governor George W. Bush to discuss a pipeline for the region, and out of that meeting came agreements that would see Texas-based Enron gain the rights to Uzbekistan’s natural gas deposits, while oil company Unocal worked on developing the Trans-Afghanistan pipeline.
“The consultant who was organizing this for Unocal was a certain Mr. Karzai, who is now president of Afghanistan,” Murray noted.
“There are designs of this pipeline, and if you look at the deployment of US forces in Afghanistan, as against other NATO country forces in Afghanistan, you’ll see that undoubtedly the US forces are positioned to guard the pipeline route. It’s what it’s about. It’s about money, it’s about oil, it’s not about democracy.”
“I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States’ presence in Afghanistan,” he wrote Sept. 10 in a four-page letter to the department’s head of personnel. “I have doubts and reservations about our current strategy and planned future strategy, but my resignation is based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end.”
“I’m not much for this war. I’m not sure it’s worth all those lives lost,” said Sergeant Christian Richardson as we walked across corn fields that will soon be ploughed up to plant a spring crop of opium poppy.
Opium production rate has soared to 6,900 tons in Afghanistan in the past 10 years ‘despite‘ the presence of 100,000 foreign troops in the country for nearly eight years.
A report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said on Wednesday that Afghanistan produces 92 percent of the world’s opium that has devastating global consequences.
The UN report also noted that Afghanistan’s illegal opium production is worth 65 billion dollars.
The heroin and opium market feeds 15 million addicts, with Europe, Russia and Iran consuming half the supply, UNODC reported.
– Top US commander in Afghanistan: The Taliban have gained the upper hand:
The Taliban have gained the upper hand in Afghanistan, the top American commander there said, forcing the U.S. to change its strategy in the eight-year-old conflict by increasing the number of troops in heavily populated areas like the volatile southern city of Kandahar, the insurgency’s spiritual home. Gen. Stanley McChrystal warned that means U.S. casualties, already running at record levels, will remain high for months to come.
(Source: The Wall Street Journal)