Senior administration officials reported to the New York Times today that budget projections for the war in Afghanistan will cost U.S. taxpayers at least $1 million per soldier, per year.
The plan to add 40,000 American troops and greatly expand Afghan security forces, supported by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, is estimated to cost between $40 billion to $54 billion annually. “Even if fewer troops are sent, or their mission is modified, the rough formula used by the White House...appears almost constant,” according to the NYT.
The new estimate for the cost of war in Afghanistan will cancel out the $26 billion savings projected for a 2010 troop withdrawal in Iraq. Under this scenario, the overall military budget could rise as high as $734 billion. The highest annual military budget during the Bush era was $667 billion.
A senior administration official speaking anonymously with the NYT said that concerns over politically volatile spending influenced the President during a White House meeting on Wednesday. Obama was insistent that each military plan incorporates the quickest possible exit strategy. “He knows we cannot sustain this indefinitely,” the official said.
In 2006, Congressional researchers estimated that the accumulated costs for each soldier in Afghanistan would be about $390,000. The sharp rise in costs reflects the increase in mine-resistant troop carriers and surveillance equipment, in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The unique difficulties of transporting soldiers around the mountainous, isolated terrain in Afghanistan also burdens U.S. taxpayers, military analysts say.
Meanwhile, the federal budget deficit has risen to $1.4 trillion due to industry bailouts and the economic stimulus program. Lawmakers like Sen. Christopher Bond (R-MO) have criticized the President for spending on domestic government agencies during wartime. Obama plans to order cuts of up to 5% for domestic agencies for 2011, administration officials told NYT's Christopher Drew on Friday.
Budget concerns come at a bad time for the President. “The debate intensified last week amid disclosures that the United States ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl W. Eikenberry, had sent cables to Washington expressing his reservations about deploying additional troops, citing weak Afghan leadership and widening corruption,” Drew reports.
Liberal Democrats in Congress are worried that Obama's willingness to increase the military budget will alienate voters who were drawn to his early opposition to the Iraq war.