Editorial: The price of Afghanistan troop buildup

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

There is a price to be paid for every important decision, but it's not always easy to find the price tag. When it comes to the decision President Obama must soon make on whether to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, many variables cannot be quantified. On cost, however, the White House is working from a simple formula, The New York Times reports: One troop, posted for one year, costs the taxpayers $1 million.

There are now nearly 68,000 troops in Afghanistan, which translates to direct spending of $68 billion a year. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, top commander in Afghanistan, has requested, as one of several options, sending 40,000 more troops. Cost: $40 billion per year.

Cost shouldn't be the only consideration in deciding what next in Afghanistan, or even the first. The first consideration must be how do the options for U.S. policy in Afghanistan affect our national interests around the world. Equally important are whether the options on the table have a credible chance of success, and how success is to be defined.

As Obama has said, the key questions the administration must answer include what is the mission and what is the strategy, not how many troops should be deployed. Eight years ago, everyone knew what the mission was. Afghanistan was the focal point in the war on terrorism. Not any more. Al Qaeda is now estimated by U.S. military officials to have fewer than 100 fighters in Afghanistan. The organization that attacked the U.S. on 9/11 is in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and a dozen other places. Like the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan has become a distraction from the real threat.

Instead, the mission seems to have become propping up the government of Hamid Karzai. The corruption and incompetence of that government is well-documented. The U.S. and our allies are engaged in what may be a worthy goal, trying to bring better governance, economic development and security to a country that has suffered greatly through a 30-year civil war.

But can we succeed at nation-building in a place that barely qualifies to be called a nation? And can we afford it, given the tide of red ink drowning the federal budget?

The cost of escalation in Afghanistan to troops and their families is incalculable, but the cost to the taxpayers is not. One soldier, one year, $1 million. Obama will have an awfully hard time convincing Americans that this mission is worth that investment.

The MetroWest Daily News