Follow the Money
September 22, 2008
Most of the literature on the cost of the Iraq War, Afghan War, and “war on terrorism” focuses on the burden these wars place on the federal budget and the US economy. These are very real issues, but they also have deflected attention from another key issue: whether the war in Afghanistan is being properly funded and being given the resources necessary to win.
Anthony H. Cordesman, the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at CSIS, has prepared a new report showing that the US has consistently failed to provide the financial and military resources necessary to win the war, and that these failures may well mean the US is losing it. This report is available here.
It is clear that a US failure to provide the necessary resources to win in Afghanistan is not the only factor in the rising tide of violence there. The weakness of the Afghan central government and the fact that the Taliban-HiG-Haqqani and Al Qa’ida have had a near sanctuary in Pakistan have also played a critical role in the resurgence of the threat, and creating an insurgency that has made major gains over the last four years. The Burke chair recently published a companion report that provides a detailed summary picture of the steady growth in Taliban-HiG-Haqqani and Al Qa’ida threat activity and its impact on US casualties. This analysis is entitled Losing The Afghan-Pakistan War? The Rising Threat, and is available here.
The US had several critical years in which to provide the resources necessary to deter and defeat the insurgency in Afghanistan. Instead of acting effectively and decisively, it failed to provide the necessary resources – a situation that the Chairman of the Joint Chief made clear continues to this day in his testimony to the House Armed Services Committee on September 10, 2008:
. . . the Chiefs and I recommended the deployment of a Marine Battalion to Afghanistan this fall and the arrival of another Army brigade early next year. These forces, by themselves, will not adequately meet General McKiernan’s desire for up to three brigades, but they are a good start. I judge the risk of not sending them too great a risk right now to ignore.
If a nation chooses to fight a war, it has to pay enough to win it, to provide the people and expertise necessary to use such resources effectively. It needs to compensate for the weaknesses of its host government, putting effective tools to manage its aid programs in place, and develop honest measures of effectiveness to monitor the impact of its military efforts, and programs to improve host country forces, governance, and economic conditions. It needs to commit resources in ways that shape the battlefield, rather than react to enemy gains and initiatives.
This new analysis of the Afghan War shows that the US has failed to meet these goals in every respect. It shows that the US has failed to commit anything like the resources it committed to the war in Iraq. Year after year, the US has been slow to commit the resources required. It shows that the US failed to provide substantial funds early in the war, when nation building and stability operations might well have stopped the resurgence of the Taliban and growth of the insurgency, and then reacted to the growth of the threat with inadequate resources and funding of the US military, US aid and diplomacy, and Afghan force development efforts.
These basic resource problems are compounded by the failure to provide adequate numbers of US troops, the failure to provide the number of military trainers and mentors needed to create effective Afghan Army and police forces, and by the failure to provide the personnel needed to use aid funds quickly and effectively. In practice, the US not only has underfunded its military and civilian aid programs, it has not been able to spend the limited money it actually has budgeted because of severe shortages in qualified aid personnel.
The end result is a consistent US and NATO/ISAF inability to seize the initiative and defeat the insurgency. It is a legacy of underfunding that has progressively increased the length and total cost of the war in human lives, wounded, and dollars.
These critical grand strategic failures will be a major challenge to the next President. They also are problems that go far beyond US funding and troop levels. The next Administration will have to deal with failure to create anything like an effective overall strategy to fight the war, if strategy is defined to requiring a practical plan to win, providing the financial and human resources to act, and meaningful management systems and measures of effectiveness.