Cost of the Afghan conflict

It is expected that in the post-2014 scenario, there will be instability in Afghanistan coupled with huge unemployment, inflation and a severe economic crunch

In the coming months, Afghanistan will likely undergo a painful transition process in all spheres: political, security, economic and social. According to the schedule set by the US and NATO, the country is expected to take full responsibility from the foreign forces by the end of December 2014.UScombat forces will leave Afghanistan at the end of this year, leaving behind 9,800 US officers in Afghanistan. However, the stay of these forces is linked to the signing of a bilateral security agreement (BSA) between the US and Afghanistan. Afghanistan’sincumbent president, Hamid Karzai, refused to sign the BSA,leaving this issue for the future Afghan president.

With the recent presidential election in Afghanistan, there is hope that the next president will sign the BSA and thatthis will enable the US to station its forces in Afghanistan after 2014. By the end of 2015, the US will reduce its forces to around 4,900 and, in the following years, will reduce this number to a small contingentto protect the US embassy and its installations.

Post-2014, the main task of US and NATO forces will be to train, advise and assistthe Afghan national security forces (ANSF)and a separate group of special operations forces to continue counterterrorism missions against the remnants of al Qaeda. This will shiftthe onus onto the ANSF to take the lead role in maintaining the law and order of the country and to undertake effective counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations against the Taliban and other insurgent groups operating in Afghanistan. However, the recently published reportby the US’s special inspector general for Afghanistan’s reconstruction (SIGAR), has painted an altogether different and rather bleak picture of the future of Afghanistan in the context of post-2014.

According to the report, Afghanistan became the largest recipient country of US aid by surpassing the US Marshall Plan that delivered billions of dollars between 1948 and 1952 to help 16 European countries to recover in the aftermath of World War II. To date, the US has spent $ 104 billion from 2002 to 2014 on Afghanistan’s reconstruction and developmentfor the ANSF,Afghan army, Afghan national police and Afghan air force.The US Marshall Plandelivered about $ 13.3 billion (in inflation-adjusted terms, today it is equal to $ 103.4 billion)in aid toEuropean countries to stand on their feet again but that aid did not include the cost of raising their armies, like Afghanistan, where the US has spent almost $ 62 billion in training, equipping and maintaining the ANSF.

Despite spending hefty amounts on the ANSF, the future dividend of that heavy investment seems uncertain.A Marshall Plan that built Europe after the Second World War could not build Afghanistan. This is the most shocking reality and abitter pill that will be difficult for the US to swallow.

According to the US’ toptroops commander, General Joseph F Dunford,“I am not confident that if we were to leave at the end of 2014, those forces (ANSF) would be sustainable. There are some significant capability gaps that have to be addressed in order for the Afghans to be able to do things that we have heretofore been doing for them.” And these apprehensions have also been expressed by the Afghans themselves and also the regional countries concerning the condition and capacity of the Afghan national army as it is already in a deplorable condition and could become less effective inwithstanding the challenges of securityafter the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan.

According to the report, the ANSF’s current size is 352,000,expected to be reduced to 228,500 by 2017 and needing $4.1 billion annually to sustain itself.According to the Centre for Naval Analyses (CNA), “In the likely 2015-2018 security environment, the ANSF will require a total security force of about 373,400 personnel.”The US and NATO countries are feeling the double jeopardy; onthe one hand, cutting the size of ANSF would risk instability in Afghanistan post-2014 and, on the other, increasing the troop numbers will raise the cost by around five billion a year.

In the upcoming NATO summit, the US and NATO countries will have to make tough choices with regards to Afghanistan in the midst ofgrowing austerity.It is expected that in the post-2014 scenario, there will be instability in Afghanistan coupled with huge unemployment, inflation and a severe economic crunch, as the current Afghan economy is based upona war (economy) and massive foreign financial support.

The gradual drawdown of foreign forces and other foreign personnel from Afghanistan will certainly dry up the financial aid and it willseverely weaken theauthority of the central government,affectingoverall political stability in the country. And to validate the above mentioned point, John F Sopkogave the example of an Afghan local police unitthat cut the power lines from Kabul to eastern Laghman and Nangahar provinces in retaliation for not being paid for three months. From this little example, one can imagine what could happen if the Afghan government cannot meet the payrolls of its servicemen.

Given the fact that Afghanistan is largely dependent upon the US and foreign donors, and having a low annual revenue of roughly two billion dollars (2013), on the contrary, the Afghanistan government has unveiled a far larger budget of about $ 7.6 billion, with donor grants expected to fund about $ 4.8 billion.This report comes at a critical juncture when Afghanistan is facing a growing Taliban insurgency with the drawdown of foreign forces, runoff between the two presidential candidates andthe hectic task of audit of 8.1 million ballotsamid growing concerns of acivil war in Afghanistan if the US-backed unity government recipe fails to deliver substantive outcomes.

The future of peace and stability in Afghanistan is linked to progress on three fronts: political, economic and security,which are critical in determining the fate of Afghanistan in the years to come.


The writer is a research fellow at the South Asian Strategic Stability Institute.

He tweets as@tahirdss.