Afghanistan War Costs Loom Large Over Obama Troops Announcement

Wars in Iraq, Afghanistan could cost $496 billion over decade, despite drawdown.

ByABC News
June 22, 2011, 11:02 AM

June 22, 2011— -- President Obama's planned drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan next month fulfills a promise he made more than a year ago, but also underscores the overwhelming costs of America's longest war.

While the United States grapples with debt and deficit crises, taxpayers are expected to spend more than $118 billion this year in Afghanistan for military operations, base security, reconstruction, foreign aid, embassy costs and veterans' health care.

That's more than double the amount the Department of Homeland Security spends per year to secure the nation's borders, screen air travelers and help Americans recover from natural disasters, among other services. Afghanistan war spending is roughly six times the annual budget of NASA.

All told, the war that began in October 2001 has cost taxpayers more than an estimated $443 billion, according to the Congressional Research Service, and the lives of more than 1,523 U.S. military service members.

Polls show the U.S. public has become increasingly war weary, leading members of both parties -- including some Republican candidates for president -- to pressure Obama to expedite his Afghanistan plan and reprioritize the war funds.

The pace of U.S. withdrawal proposed by Obama "sounds a little slow and a little cautious, when you look at one out of every six Defense Department dollars going in support of what we're doing in Afghanistan," former Utah governor and GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman said today on "GMA."

"Nine years and 50 days into this conflict, the money that has been spent on both conflicts, well over $1 trillion, I think we have to say, 'What have we accomplished in Afghanistan?'" he said.

Huntsman is not alone. While 57 percent of Americans in the latest ABC News poll say the war has contributed to long-term national security, far fewer, 25 percent, say it has contributed "a great deal," which is the kind of payback many want to see, given the war's steep price tag.

The Pentagon says all of its war-related costs since Sept. 11, 2001, including in Iraq, have topped $1 trillion. Add diplomatic expenses and care for veterans and total government spending reaches an estimated $1.3 trillion.

In a Senate speech Tuesday, freshman Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia said it was time to "rebuild America, not Afghanistan," and that Obama should pursue significant troop reduction immediately.

Earlier in the week, members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors also urged Congress to end both the Afghan and Iraq wars and invest the money instead on jobs at home.

Still, while Obama is expected to announce a reduction of 5,000 to 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year, and as many as 30,000 "surge" troops next year, the shift won't dramatically reduce the burden of war on America's budget, statistics show.

The Pentagon estimates show that taxpayers could save $30 billion in the first year of a drawdown.

But the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects war costs in both Iraq and Afghanistan in the next decade could still top $496 billion, even if troop levels fall to 45,000 from 99,000 by 2015.