The US government’s financial commitment to Afghanistan is likely to linger on and reach into the billions long after it pulls combat troops from the country, newly disclosed spending estimates show.
The US expects to spend about US$6 billion a year training and supporting Afghan troops and police after it begins withdrawing its own combat troops next year.
The estimates of US spending through 2015, detailed in a NATO training mission document, are an acknowledgment that Afghanistan will remain largely dependent on the US for its security.
That reality could become problematic for US President Barack Obama’s administration as it continues to seek money for Afghanistan from US Congress at a time of increasingly tight budgets.
In Brussels, a NATO official said on Monday that alliance commander General David Petraeus asked for 2,000 more soldiers, with almost half to be trainers for the rapidly expanding Afghan security forces.
The NATO official requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the subject.
The training mission document outlines large scale infrastructure projects including a military hospital and military and police academies aimed at “establishing enduring institutions” and “creating irreversible momentum.”
Spending for training is projected to taper off from US$11.6 billion next year to an average of US$6.2 billion over the following four years. Much of the reduction reflects reduced spending on infrastructure.
The administration recently announced that it intends to ramp up the total Afghan army and police force from almost 250,000 today to more than 300,000 by late next year. The mission will be largely paid for by the US, with smaller contributions from NATO allies. The projected multibillion-dollar cost of maintaining those forces would be inconceivable for Afghanistan’s small economy without foreign aid.
One of the arguments against dramatically increasing the size of Afghan security forces, even during former US president George W. Bush’s administration, was that the Afghan government would be unable to pay for them for the foreseeable future. The NATO document shows that the US will end up footing most of the bill.
The Obama administration has boosted the training mission in preparation for next year’s drawdown. The US spent over US$20 billion on training between 2003 and last year and expects to spend about the same this year and next alone.
The head of the NATO training mission, US Lieutenant General Bill Caldwell, says bolstering Afghanistan’s security forces is cost efficient.
“It will always be more expensive to have a coalition force doing something than an Afghan counterpart,” Caldwell said in a written response to questions from the Associated Press.
Todd Harrison, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, says it will be difficult to wean the Afghan security forces quickly.
“We really do have a long way to go before this winds down,” he said.