New Afghanistan Troop Plan to Cost Billions

By Jon Harper
President Barack Obama’s decision to delay troop withdrawals from Afghanistan could cost $10 billion or more annually, analysts said.

The commander-in-chief recently announced that about 10,000 U.S. troops would remain in the country until late 2016, and 5,500 would still be in Afghanistan when he leaves office in 2017. The previous plan called for drawing down to a mere embassy presence by the end of 2016.

Independent defense budget experts estimated that the additional forces and support efforts would come with a big price tag.

“They will probably need at least $10 billion more this [fiscal] year for the number change,” said Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense analyst at the American Enterprise Institute. For fiscal year 2017, the Pentagon will need “at least” $20 billion. Her estimates were based on per capita cost trends for keeping service members in Afghanistan, as well as the cost of the overall war effort.

Michael O’Hanlon, co-director of the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence at the Brookings Institution, said $10 billion to $15 billion a year would likely be needed to bankroll the higher force levels.

Both O’Hanlon and Eaglen expect the money for Afghanistan operations to be allocated as part of overseas contingency operations (OCO) funding.

“It will be additional to other defense spending, not taking from” other Pentagon programs, O’Hanlon said in an email.

The Obama administration and Congress recently reached an agreement to spend about $59 billion annually on military OCO in fiscal years 2016 and 2017.

Beyond 2017, the troop level will likely remain at 5,500 or higher, Eaglen said.

“I do think it’s the floor until there is a significantly more stable Afghan National Security Forces” and the threat from insurgents declines, she said. “Only then can the U.S. consider revising” the military footprint.

Experts anticipate sufficient political backing on Capitol Hill for funding the more robust troop presence.

“It should have a fair amount of broad support, though I would expect some critiquing here and there,” O’Hanlon said.

Topics: Defense Department, DOD Budget

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