WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama’s request in February for more money to pay for the war in Afghanistan is still snarled in Congress as lawmakers work on other priorities and deal with scarce budget resources.
When Afghan President Hamid Karzai meets lawmakers this week as part of his four-day trip to Washington, they will want reassurances from him that he is committed to tackling corruption and ensuring U.S. taxpayer funds are not wasted.
Obama has asked for $33 billion more to help fund 30,000 extra U.S. soldiers being sent to Afghanistan this year. He wants $4.5 billion more for beefed-up foreign aid and civilian operations in Iraq and Afghanistan this year; about $2 billion of that amount is dedicated to Afghanistan.
Congress is expected to approve the new money but appears to be in no hurry. Following are the costs to U.S. taxpayers so far, as well as some of the future funding needed.
Congress has approved $345 billion so far for the war in Afghanistan, where the United States invaded to fight al Qaeda and topple the Taliban after the September 11 attacks in 2001. This figure is from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which says that about $22 billion has gone for Afghan-war-related activities in other countries.
About twice as much money — $708 billion — has gone to the war in Iraq so far, CBO says.
But Afghanistan is becoming the more expensive battleground, as the pace of U.S. military operations slows in Iraq and quickens in Afghanistan.
The current fiscal year, which ends September 30, is the first year that more money has been allocated to Afghanistan ($72.3 billion) than Iraq ($64.5 billion), according to the National Priorities Project, a nonpartisan budget research group that examines congressional appropriations.
Included in the money spent on Afghanistan so far is more than $25 billion for training and equipping the Afghan National Security Forces — the army and police, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. Obama wants another $14.2 billion for this purpose for the rest of this year and next; the idea is to leave behind security forces that can take on the responsibility of fighting the Taliban as U.S. forces start to leave.
Future expenses are a question mark, partly because troop levels are uncertain. Obama says he wants to start withdrawing forces from Afghanistan in mid-2011, but that will depend, in part, on conditions on the ground. No departure deadline has been set.
Estimates of the cost per troop per year in Afghanistan vary from $500,000 to $1 million depending on whether expenditures on troop housing and equipment are included along with pay, food and fuel. Medical costs for the injured and veterans’ compensation balloon as time goes on.
Foreign aid, including food and development assistance, to Afghanistan has totaled some $17 billion since 2002, according to Department of State and Congressional Research Service documents.
But future expenses in this area are also a question mark that is expected to linger after the military one. “As President Obama made clear, our civilian engagement in Afghanistan and Pakistan will endure long after our combat troops come home,” the State Department said in its justification for its supplemental budget request this year.
That request includes $2 billion in 2010 to help fund a “civilian stabilization strategy” to deliver more economic assistance to Afghanistan, especially in its agricultural sector. Part of the idea is to create jobs that will draw insurgents off the battlefield in Afghanistan.
Editing by Sue Pleming and Cynthia Osterman