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USA Today

Afghan War Costs Now Outpace Iraq's

Richard Wolf

WASHINGTON - The monthly cost of the war in Afghanistan, driven by troop increases and fighting on difficult terrain, has topped Iraq costs for the first time since 2003 and shows no sign of letting up.

Pentagon spending in February, the most recent
month available, was $6.7 billion in Afghanistan compared with $5.5
billion in Iraq. As recently as fiscal year 2008, Iraq was three times
as expensive; in 2009, it was twice as costly.

The shift is occurring because the Pentagon is
adding troops in Afghanistan and withdrawing them from Iraq. And it's
happening as the cumulative cost of the two wars surpasses $1 trillion,
including spending for veterans and foreign aid. Those costs could put
increased pressure on President Obama and Congress, given the nation's
$12.9 trillion debt.

"The overall costs are a function, in part, of the number of troops," says Linda Bilmes, an expert on wartime spending at Harvard University.
"The costs are also a result of the intensity of operations, and the
number of different places that we have our troops deployed."

Obama made clear Wednesday that the U.S. role in
Afghanistan would remain long after troops are withdrawn, a process
planned to begin in July 2011. "This is a long-term partnership," he
said during a news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Continued American support will be crucial as U.S. troop levels and costs in Afghanistan escalate:

  • The number of U.S. servicemembers in
    Afghanistan has risen to 87,000, on top of 47,000 from 44 other
    countries. At the same time, the number of U.S. servicemembers in Iraq
    has dropped to 94,000. By next year, Afghanistan is to have 102,000
    U.S. servicemembers, Iraq 43,000.
  • Afghanistan will cost nearly $105 billion in
    the 2010 fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, including most of $33 billion
    in additional spending requested by Obama and pending before Congress.
    Iraq will cost about $66 billion. In fiscal 2011, Afghanistan is
    projected to cost $117 billion, Iraq $46 billion. To date, Pentagon
    spending in Iraq has reached $620 billion, compared with $190 billion
    in Afghanistan.
  • Costs per servicemember in Afghanistan have
    been roughly double what they are in Iraq since 2005. That is due to
    lower troop levels, Afghanistan's landlocked location, lack of
    infrastructure, high cost of fuel and less reliable security. "The cost
    just cascades," says Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and
    Budgetary Assessments. "That's always been an issue in Afghanistan."

"Iraq, logistically, is much easier," says Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress. "You get the stuff to Kuwait and just drive it up the road."

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