Prohibitive cost of war contributed to US withdrawal from Afghanistan, shows report

Published November 8, 2021
This file photo shows Gen James Amos, commandant of the US Marine Corps, in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan. — AP
This file photo shows Gen James Amos, commandant of the US Marine Corps, in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan. — AP

WASHINGTON: A nongovernmental estimate of US costs for the 20-year war in Afghanistan is more than double the calculation made by the US Department of Defence (DOD), says an official report.

The Special Inspector General for Afgh­anistan Reconstruction (SIG­AR), an official agency that reports directly to Congress, released its latest findings this week, focusing on how the ever-soaring costs of war forced Washington to reconsider its Afghan strategy.

The report notes that the Brown University’s Costs of War Project in its latest estimates put total costs of the 20-year (2001-2021) at $2.26 trillion. The university’s prestigious Watson Institute for International Public Affairs sponsored the project.

The Watson report builds on DOD’s $933 billion Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) budgets and State’s $59 billion OCO budgets for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Unlike the DOD Cost of War Report, the Watson report adds what it considers to be Afghanistan-related costs of $433 billion above DOD baseline costs, $296 billion in medical and disability costs for veterans, and $530 billion in interest costs on related Treasury borrowing.

DOD’s latest Cost of War Report, dated June 30, 2021, said its cumulative obligations for Afghanistan, including US war fighting and reconstruction, had reached $839.8 billion. Cumulative reconstruction and related obligations reported by State, USAID, and other civilian agencies reached $49.7 billion.

The SIGAR report notes that since 2002, Congress has appropriated more than $145.96 billion for reconstruction and related activities in Afghanistan, of which nearly $110.26 billion was for six of the seven largest active reconstruction accounts.

The International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) reported cumulative appropriations of $5.50 billion and $0.57 billion in funds remaining for possible disbursement on June 30, 2021. As of September 30, 2021, approximately $3.59 billion of the amount appropriated to these six reconstruction accounts remained for possible disbursement. The fall of Kabul in August this year, delayed both disbursements.Congress created the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund (ASFF) to provide the Afghan National Defence Forces (ANDSF) with equipment, supplies, services, training, and funding for salaries, as well as facility and infrastructure repair, renovation, and construction.

Former US president Donald Trump signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, into law on December 27, 2020, which provided an appropriation of $3.05 billion for ASFF for fiscal year 2021 and a rescission of $1.10 billion for ASFF for fiscal year 2020, reducing the original appropriation from $4.20 billion to an adjusted appropriation of $3.10 billion.

This quarter, DOD reprogrammed nearly $1.46 billion from its ASFF FY 2020 and FY 2021 accounts to its Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster, and Civic Aid (OHDACA) and Transportation Working Capital Fund (TWCF) accounts, providing funds for evacuation from Afghanistan, and reducing ASFF FY 2020 and ASFF FY 2021 balances to more than $2.95 billion and nearly $1.74 billion, respectively.

As of September 30, 2021, cumulative appropriations for ASFF stood at more than $81.44 billion, with nearly $76.39 billion having been obligated, and nearly $75.72 billion disbursed.

DOD reported that cumulative obligations increased by $193.06 million during the quarter ending September 30, 2021, and cumulative disbursements increased by more than $514.60 million.

The SIGAR report also includes a joint statement issued after a Sept. 8, 2021, virtual meeting of the foreign ministers of Pakistan, China, Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The statement affirms “the importance of sustained international engagement on Afghanistan, especially in supporting its humanitarian and development needs.”

Afghanistan’s six neighboring states further expressed their “readiness to keep ports open for Afghanistan and ensure the smooth cross-border flow of goods to facilitate Afghanistan’s access to external support, in particular the transport of humanitarian supplies, as well as to help Afghanistan strengthen economic and trade connectivity with the regional countries.”

The SIGAR document also notes that in early Pakistan reported that its exports to Afghanistan had dropped by 73 percent following the Taliban takeover and the current economic crisis. On the other hand, the value of Afghan exports to Pakistan increased by 142 percent from August 16 to September 30, as compared to the period July 1–August 15. Pakistan is one of Afghanistan’s main trading partners.

The SIGAR report notes that in 2019, Afghanistan imported goods totaling $7.33 billion while exporting only $975 million worth, according to World Trade Organization data; this produced a negative merchandise trade balance of $6.36 billion, equivalent to 30.1 percent of GDP.

Published in Dawn, November 8th, 2021

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