US Wars in Afghanistan, Iraq to Cost $6 Trillion
September 28, 2013
Sabir Shah / The News (Pakistan) & Andrea Shalal-Esa / Reuters
The decade-long American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq would end up costing as much as $6 trillion, the equivalent of $75,000 for every American household, calculates the prestigious Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. Meanwhile, the US-led effort to train the Afghan air force faces big challenges ranging from security threats to possible repercussions from a new review of infrastructure and equipment projects.
US Wars in Afghanistan, Iraq to Cost $6 Trillion
Sabir Shah / The News (Pakistan)
LAHORE (September 19, 2013) -- The decade-long American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq would end up costing as much as $6 trillion, the equivalent of $75,000 for every American household, calculates the prestigious Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.
Remember, when President George Bush's National Economic Council Director, Lawrence Lindsey, had told the country's largest newspaper The Wall Street Journal that the war would cost between $100 billion and $200 billion, he had found himself under intense fire from his colleagues in the administration who claimed that this was a gross overestimation.
Consequently, Lawrence Lindsey was forced to resign. It is also imperative to recall that the Bush administration had claimed at the very outset that the Iraq war would finance itself out of Iraqi oil revenues, but Washington DC had instead ended up borrowing some $2 trillion to finance the two wars, the bulk of it from foreign lenders.
According to the Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government 2013 report, this accounted for roughly 20 percent of the total amount added to the US national debt between 2001 and 2012.
According to the report, the US "has already paid $260 billion in interest on the war debt," and future interest payments would amount to trillions of dollars. This Harvard University report has also been carried on its website by the Centre for Research on Globalisation, which is a widely-quoted Montreal-based independent research and media organisation.
In its report under review, the 377-year old Harvard University has viewed that these afore-mentioned wars had not only left the United States heavily indebted, but would also have a profound impact on the federal government's fiscal and budgetary crises over a protracted period.
The report has attributed the largest share of the trillions of dollars in continuing costs to care and compensation for hundreds of thousands of troops left physically and psychologically damaged by the two wars being discussed here.
The report states: "The Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, taken together, will be the most expensive wars in US history -- totaling somewhere between $4 trillion and $6 trillion. This includes long-term medical care and disability compensation for service members, veterans and families, military replenishment and social and economic costs. The largest portion of that bill is yet to be paid."
It asserts: "Another major share of the long-term costs of the wars comes from paying off trillions of dollars in debt incurred as the US government failed to include their cost in annual budgets and simultaneously implemented sweeping tax cuts for the rich.
In addition, huge expenditures are being made to replace military equipment used in the two wars. The report also cites improvements in military pay and benefits made in 2004 to counter declining recruitment rates as casualties rose in the Iraq war."
The authors of this report have warned that the legacy of decisions taken during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars would dominate future federal budgets for decades to come.
According to the Harvard University report, some 1.56 million US troops -- 56 percent of all Afghanistan and Iraq veterans -- were receiving medical treatment at Veterans Administration facilities and would be granted benefits for the rest of their lives.
It reveals: "One out of every two veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan has already applied for permanent disability benefits. The official figure of 50,000 American troops "wounded in action" vastly underestimates the real human costs of the two US wars. One-third of returning veterans are being diagnosed with mental health issues -- suffering from anxiety, depression, and/or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)."
The report notes that in addition, over a quarter of a million troops have suffered traumatic brain injuries (TBI), which, in many cases, were combined with PTSD, posing greater problems in treatment and recovery.
"Constituting a particularly grim facet of this mental health crisis is the doubling of the suicide rate for US Army personnel, with many who attempted suicide suffering serious injuries," opine the report authors.
It maintains: "Overall, the Veterans Administration's budget has more than doubled over the past decade, from $61.4 billion in 2001 to $140.3 billion in 2013. As a share of the total US budget it has grown from 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent over the same period.
Soaring medical costs for veterans is attributable to several factors. Among them is that, thanks to advancements in medical technology and rapid treatment, soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have survived wounds that would have cost their lives in earlier conflicts."
The Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government report has estimated: "While the US government has already spent $134 billion on medical care and disability benefits for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, this figure will climb by an additional $836 billion over the coming decades."
It notes that the largest expenditures on health care for World War II veterans took place in the 1980s, roughly four decades after the war, and that spending on medical care and disability payments for Vietnam War veterans was still on the rise.
Here follows the description: "The most common medical problems suffered by troops returning from the two wars include: diseases of the musculoskeletal system (principally joint and back disorders); mental health disorders; central nervous system and endocrine system disorders; as well as respiratory, digestive, skin and hearing disorders. Overall, some 29 percent of these troops have been diagnosed with PTSD."
The report goes on to argue: "Among the most severely wounded are 6,476 soldiers and Marines who have suffered "severe penetrating brain injury," and another 1,715 who have had one or more limbs amputated. Over 30,000 veterans are listed as suffering 100 percent service-related disabilities, while another 145,000 are listed as 70 to 90 percent disabled."
It reads: "The worst of these casualties have taken place under the Obama administration as a result of the so-called surge that the Democratic president ordered in Afghanistan."
It mentions that the Walter Reed Medical Centre, US Army's flagship hospital at Washington DC, was treating hundreds of recent amputees and severe casualties, adding that this facility had received 100 amputees for treatment during 2010; 170 amputees in 2011; and 107 amputees in 2012.
The report has also stated that the US Marines have suffered an especially high toll.
The report points out:
"Massive direct spending on the two imperialist interventions continues. With over 60,000 US troops remain in Afghanistan, it is estimated that the cost of deploying one American soldier for one year in this war amounts to $1 million. These troops continue suffering casualties -- including in so-called "green on blue" attacks by Afghan security forces on their ostensible allies.
"As they are brought home, they will further drive up the costs of medical care and disability compensation. The US is maintaining a vast diplomatic presence in Iraq, including at least 10,000 private contractors providing support in security, IT, logistics, engineering and other occupations; as well as logistics support and payments for leased facilities in Kuwait."
In its conclusion, the report not only seeks to dispel illusions that ending full-scale wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would produce any kind of "peace dividend" that could help ameliorate conditions of poverty, unemployment and declining living standards for working people in the US itself, but makes it clear that the legacy of decisions made during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts would impose significant long-term costs on the federal government for many years to come.
US Infrastructure Boom in Afghanistan:
$37 Million Aviation Facility Used to Store Opium
US General Sees Problems, Progress in Developing Afghan Air Force
Andrea Shalal-Esa / Reuters
NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland (September 21, 2013) -- The US-led effort to train the Afghan air force faces big challenges ranging from security threats to possible repercussions from a new review of infrastructure and equipment projects, the US general in charge said.
"This is a hard deal. We're far from 100-percent guaranteed on delivery," said Air Force Brigadier General John Michel, who leads NATO Air Training Command Afghanistan, which is due to complete its training of the Afghan air force by December 31, 2017 -- three years after most US forces leave Afghanistan.
The one-star general cited progress in training and planning for Afghanistan to assume control over the air force but said many factors were outside his control.
Michel spoke to Reuters this week during the annual Air Force Association conference here.
He said the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force was re-examining all infrastructure projects after a report that one $37 million aviation facility may have been used to store opium and other concerns raised by Congress.
A group of US lawmakers this week called on US Attorney General Eric Holder to use all available resources to back up the Pentagon's criminal investigation into potentially improper payments made by an Army aviation unit that awarded contracts to Russian and US firms to maintain and overhaul Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters.
Michel said Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, who heads ISAF, was trying to insulate the training command from any fallout from the procurement problems, which were linked to a different unit. But some consequences were possible, he said.
"If they downscale some of our infrastructure (and cut aircraft), there's a degrading effect on our capacity," he said. "All of these become impediments to our success while we fight the clock."
Michel, who arrived on the job seven weeks ago, said about 70 percent of the hangars, taxiways and other infrastructure needed to support the air force, which is due to expand to around 8,000 people from 7,000, were completed.
But he said he fears the remaining 30 percent might never get built if problems identified in a recent report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) lead to project cancellations.
"You have to have concrete and buildings to operate from," he said.
'SMALL BUT MIGHTY'
The training mission is being led by 649 US military advisers, contractors and advisers from other NATO forces. Their ranks will swell to 1,114 over the next two years after four Lockheed Martin Corp C-130 cargo planes and 20 A29 Super Tucano planes built by Sierra Nevada Corp arrive.
A dozen Mi-17 helicopters are also expected in coming weeks, Michel said.
The NATO advisers are helping Afghans develop the skills to operate, maintain, develop budgets for and manage what Michel calls a self-sustaining, "small but mighty" air force.
Afghani pilots will be trained to carry out missions, respond to natural disasters, and evacuate casualties in a mountainous country that still lacks roads and other forms transportation.
One of the biggest challenges has been ensuring that about half the force learns English, Michel said, noting that recruiting was difficult in a country where literacy in native languages was at just 31 percent.
Michel's unit now runs seven English courses, serving about 420 students at any given time.
Security at six training sites in Afghanistan is another worry, with attacks or threats setting back training efforts and forcing trainers to reinforce security, he said.
"The more we have to do those kind of (security) missions, the more we have to degrade training," he said.
A longer-term concern is whether the Afghan military can afford the estimated $600 million to $620 million a year it will cost to run the air force.
That question, Michel says, could have big implications for the training effort, and is being debated by Dunford, the Marine Corps general, and Afghan leaders.
"We're going to consume 15 to 20 percent of their budget. We need to know today if that's sustainable," Michel said.
Despite the challenges, he said the Afghan air force was flourishing in many respects.
A casualty evacuation that once took three days can now be executed in three to four hours, and Afghan pilots recently evacuated 300 villagers threatened by major flooding, Michel said.
The air force is also laying the groundwork for the emergence of an Afghan aviation sector and the related infrastructure that will help Afghanistan attract foreign investment, he said.
"Aviation opens you to the world," Michel said. "It seeds the investment that Afghanistan is going to need to really flourish going forward."
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Xavier Briand, Eric Walsh and Eric Beech)
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