More taxpayer looting and to achieve what exactly ?
By Russ Baker< on Jun 3, 2014
Most of the stories headlining how President Obama plans to cut troops in Afghanistan as part of his planned exit from that country have not bothered to provide numbers on U.S. military spending there.
A few have, but almost in passing. For example, CNN doesn’t indicate the current levels of spending, but notes that
Tony Blinken, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, told CNN that the United States will spend about $20 billion on the continued military presence in Afghanistan after 2014.
In other words, $20 billion is what the U.S. will spend after it has effectively “withdrawn.”
Too bad news organizations don’t routinely give us a sense of what we are spending, or what else we might get for the same monies directed toward other purposes.
But here’s one thing to consider: $20 billion is about one-third to one-half of what the United States Department of Education spends on elementary, secondary and vocational education, and comparable to what it spends on higher education.
When President Obama released his Fiscal Year 2013 budget, Education Secretary Arne Duncan “announced that high-quality education is absolutely critical to rebuilding our economy.” Maybe so, but domestic spending is constantly under assault—and the lawmakers who reflexively support any and all military allocations are often the same ones complaining about “big government” and “wasteful” spending.
Here are a few other comparative statistics: (numbers vary, of course, from year to year)
-$20 billion is what the U.S. government budgeted for 2013 to subsidize often-struggling farmers
-It’s four-fifths of what we spend for science, space and technology
-It’s more than twice the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency
-It’s a third of what we spend on veterans’ hospital and medical care—on the people who fight in all wars combined
-It’s about a third of what we spend on administration of justice
-It’s five times what’s budgeted for energy conservation in 2014 and 2015
-It’s about 8 times what we spend on national parks—which have suffered continued cuts in recent years, resulting in reduced services and closures
If it’s not achieving something of clear benefit to Americans, why does the spending continue at such levels? Here’s another thing to consider, a graphic on Afghanistan we’ve run in the past to considerable interest:
Sources for Budget Data:
About half of the U.S. military vehicles still in Afghanistan – worth billions of dollars – aren’t coming home, and instead will be destroyed or otherwise disposed of by 2016, officials say. An even higher percentage of the rest of the remaining equipment also will be scrapped or left behind.
U.S. troops received their marching orders last week for their final years in Afghanistan: President Barack Obama said 9,800 will remain in the country after the end of 2014. Half of those troops will come out by the end of next year, followed by the remainder by the end of 2016. The only military personnel enduring past then will be the “normal military presence” at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, working on foreign military sales and assistance.
There is roughly $36 billion of U.S. military equipment currently in Afghanistan, which in its used state is now worth about $8 billion. Of that, only $3 billion to $4 billion worth will be shipped out of the country, largely by air, and on to foreign ports for the return journey home. The rest will be destroyed, given away or perhaps sold.
The total cost for moving all the equipment is as much as $6 billion.
“A lot of the cargo will come out and be reset to be used by the Department of Defense,” says Army Col. Glenn Baca, operations chief for the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command. Some of the equipment will return to military depot yards to be refurbished and redistributed to Army or Marine Corps units. “Then there is some equipment that is in excess to the U.S. Department of Defense’s needs.”
Those supplies, vehicles or pieces of gear are either worn out or technologically outdated. Some will be given to the Afghan government or put on the market for foreign military sales. For example, about 150 Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, or MRAPs, are to be sold to the Croatian government. All foreign militaries are responsible for shipping the equipment they purchase, Baca says.
There were about 20,000 vehicles in Afghanistan when the drawdown efforts began. Roughly half are still there: 5,000 to 7,000 will be brought back to the U.S. this year, and roughly 5,000 will be disposed of or left in Afghanistan by 2016.
The drawdown remains dangerous work. Military intelligence indicates the number of attacks against outbound shipments has stayed within “historical norms,” Baca says, despite the total number of troops in Afghanistan shrinking from more than 100,000 to its current level of just 32,800.
“We haven’t had one security instance which has inhibited our ability to move,” he adds.
Ending the war footing in Afghanistan represents a herculean effort for logistics teams aiming to pull out or otherwise dispose of all the equipment in landlocked Afghanistan, which at its peak in 2011 was home to 101,000 U.S. troops. U.S. News visited a string of closing forward operating bases and airfields last summer.
"It's almost like cleaning out a basement," Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Jason Lamoureux, a terminal manager at Bagram Air Field, said last July. "There's some ugly stuff coming through."
All U.S. bases in Afghanistan are shrinking, except for the sprawling Bagram in eastern Afghanistan, considered a key linchpin for international air traffic. It showed no signs of downsizing last summer, and instead was home to new construction projects.
Afghanistan’s geographic position means the drawdown effort takes place largely by ground or, if the military is willing to pay the much higher price, by air. The $6 billion price tag for the remaining drawdown efforts depends on no major kinks related to the outbound land routes.
Last summer, roughly 90 percent of U.S. shipments out of Afghanistan were traveling by ground. Political troubles, particularly with countries like neighboring Pakistan, now have forced the U.S. to lean on the more expeditious but significantly more expensive air option.
Pakistan has routinely closed off use of its overland routes, citing anger over U.S. policies that include the use of armed drones in the country's tribal northern reaches. Road closures then prompt immediate storage costs, while drivers are forced to wait, Baca says.
“The benefit is it can be done much more expeditiously” by air, Baca says. The military has also switched its food distribution contractor to a company that, unlike its predecessor, moves the bulk of its shipments by air.
The other ground alternative is the Northern Distribution Network, a particularly complicated route out of northern Afghanistan that entails traveling through Central Asia, Russia and up through to the Baltics.
“That route had a lot of value for us when Pakistan was locked up, but it’s a route that takes a long time to transit,” Baca says. Recent tensions with Russia have not caused any logistical problems with the route, he says, though U.S. military planners are now taking further precautions: Every single piece of equipment that enters or exits Russia is carefully logged to ensure that it completes the journey.
“Let’s say the Russians were to shut down the roads … We need to know what we have in Russia," he says, adding the U.S. does not want any cargo stuck there. So far, there have been no problems clearing the shipments through Russian customs.
“Materially, the situation hasn’t affected the way we move cargo. It has made us monitor more closely the cargo that is transiting in case the situation changes rapidly,” he says.