The Cost of Expanding Afghan Security Forces

Today in London, 70 nations are taking part in a conference about the future of Afghanistan.  One of the main focus points is the plan to greatly increase the size of the country’s security forces.  The US and its European allies intend to fund the expansion and help train new recruits.  British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that there will be 134,000 soldiers in the Afghan National Army by October of this year, and 171,600 in October 2011; he also said the Afghan National Police force will have 109,000 officers and 134,000 personnel by the same respective dates. 

The Pentagon estimates that it will cost between $10 billion and $20 billion to bankroll the augmentation, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai estimated that it will take five to 10 years to complete the process and as many as 15 years before his government can finance its defense establishment.  According to these figures, the West will have to spend tens of billions of dollars to enlarge the army and police, and several billion dollars annually just to sustain the forces.  There is reason to doubt that Afghanistan will be able to pay for its national security apparatus on its own by the end of Mr. Karzai’s timetable because the country’s yearly tax revenue currently totals a mere $1.1 billion.  Considering the facts that the government will need to spend money on other programs and corruption is a major problem, it is highly unlikely that the state will be able to afford to maintain sufficiently large security organizations without a high level of financial assistance from the international community for decades to come, barring an economic miracle in one of the world’s poorest nations.

However, the American-led war effort is expected to cost more than $100 billion a year as long as the size of the foreign military presence remains the same, so requisite spending on indigenous forces would only be a fraction of current operational expenditures.  NATO members, including the US, have stated that they intend to begin withdrawing their combatants next year, but given the strength of the insurgency and the weakness of the Afghan National Army, it appears that a major drawdown in 2011 will be infeasible if Western leaders are determined to prevent the Taliban from taking over large swathes of Afghanistan.  The attendees at the London conference should recognize these facts before they devise plans for the future.

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