Leaving More Troops in Afghanistan Will Cost Extra $3.5 Billion in 2017: Analyst

Staff Sgt. Gary Allsbrook, 455th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron quick reaction force, gets into a mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) all-terrain vehicle (M-ATV), June 27, 2016, Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. (Photo by Justyn M. Freeman/U.S. Air Force)Staff Sgt. Gary Allsbrook, 455th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron quick reaction force, gets into a mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) all-terrain vehicle (M-ATV), June 27, 2016, Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. (Photo by Justyn M. Freeman/U.S. Air Force)

As my colleague Richard Sisk reported earlier today at Military.com, President Barack Obama has announced plans to keep more U.S. troops in Afghanistan next year than previously authorized — 8,400 rather than 5,500:

The announcement by Obama at the White House, with Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford flanking him, left decisions on future U.S. commitments to Afghanistan to the next president and essentially scuttled Obama’s dream of leaving office after ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The decision I’m making today ensures that my successor has a solid foundation for progress in Afghanistan, as well as the flexibility to address the threat of terrorism as it evolves,” Obama said. “I firmly believe the decision I’m announcing is the right thing to do.”

Currently, there are about 9,800 U.S. troops authorized for Afghanistan. Obama had earlier agreed to alter his plan to begin reducing that number to 5,500 by January 2017 by keeping the 9,800 in Afghanistan through the rest of this year, as recommended by his generals.

But leaving more American troops in Afghanistan won’t be cheap.

Indeed, it’s estimated to cost an additional $3.5 billion in 2017 alone, according to Todd Harrison, a senior fellow and director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington, D.C.

“Avg, cost per troop in Afghanistan is ~$1.2M / yr, so keeping 8,400 troops rather than 5,500 should cost an extra ~$3.5B in FY17 #BudgetMath,” he tweeted.

Harrison explained that’s the full additional cost of a soldier deployed compared to one stationed stateside and includes the expense of contractors.

It’s not a well-known detail, but there are about three times as many contractors in Afghanistan (28,626) as there are U.S. troops (9,640), according to a Central Command census report from April.

Almost half of those contractors (48 percent) are helping to provide logistics and maintenance to American personnel, the document states. The rest are working in security, base support, management and administration, construction, translation and interpretation, among other areas, it states.

The Pentagon has requested almost $583 billion for fiscal 2017, which begins Oct. 1, including $524 billion for its base budget and $59 billion for its war budget, or overseas contingency operations (OCO), according to budget documents. Congress hasn’t yet approved defense funding levels for the next fiscal year.

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Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.