Afghanistan: For Real Savings, Make a Real Withdrawal

William Hartung. Huffington Post, 28 June 2011.


There won’t be large scale savings from the winding down of the Afghan war until virtually all U.S. forces are withdrawn. Even then there are still likely to be ongoing costs for training, equipping and possibly even paying Afghan security forces, which could cost up to $10 billion or more per year if current rates are maintained. But the vast bulk of the $120 billion per year now being spent on the war will be freed up for other purposes: deficit reduction, or public investments, or some combination of the two.

An end to the Afghan and Iraq wars may also open the way to a more comprehensive public debate on the Pentagon’s $550 billion-plus annual base budget — a sum over four times as large as what we spend on the wars. Politically, making real cuts in Pentagon spending during a time of war is a tough sell, even given our current budgetary predicament. But an end to the wars combined with the pressure from the deficit could lead to real cuts in the Pentagon’s base budget as well, especially if we adopt a new strategy that forswears major wars of occupation or large-scale insurgency campaigns of the kind our nation has waged in Iraq and Afghanistan. If we cut the war spending and bring the Pentagon’s larger budget into line with reality, then we’ll be talking real money.

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