- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The U.S. government’s financial commitment to Afghanistan is likely to linger and reach into the billions long after it pulls combat troops from the country, newly disclosed spending estimates show.

The United States expects to spend about $6 billion a year training and supporting Afghan troops and police after it begins withdrawing its own combat troops in 2011.

The estimates of U.S. spending through 2015, detailed in a NATO training mission document, are an acknowledgment that Afghanistan will remain largely dependent on the United States for its security.

That reality could become problematic for the Obama administration as it continues to seek money for Afghanistan from Congress in a time of increasingly tight budgets.

In Brussels, a NATO official said Monday that alliance commander Army Gen. David H. Petraeus had asked for 2,000 more soldiers, with nearly half to be trainers for the rapidly expanding Afghan security forces. The NATO official requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the subject.

The training mission document outlines large-scale infrastructure projects, including a military hospital and military and police academies, aimed at “establishing enduring institutions” and “creating irreversible momentum.”

Spending for training is projected to taper off from $11.6 billion next year to an average of $6.2 billion over the following four years. Much of the reduction reflects reduced spending on infrastructure.

The Obama administration recently announced that it intends to increase the total Afghan army and police force from nearly 250,000 today to more than 300,000 by late next year.

The mission will be largely paid for by the United States, with smaller contributions from NATO allies. The projected multibillion-dollar cost of maintaining those forces would be inconceivable for Afghanistan’s small economy without foreign aid.

One of the arguments against dramatically increasing the size of Afghan security forces, even during President George W. Bush’s administration, was that the Afghan government would be unable to pay for them for the foreseeable future. The NATO document shows that the U.S. will end up footing most of the bill.

The Obama administration has boosted the training mission in preparation for next year’s drawdown. The United States spent more than $20 billion on training between 2003 and 2009 and expects to spend about the same this year and next alone.

The head of the NATO training mission, Army Lt. Gen. Bill Caldwell, said bolstering Afghanistan’s security forces is cost-efficient.

“It will always be more expensive to have a coalition force doing something than an Afghan counterpart,” Gen. Caldwell said in a written response to questions from the Associated Press.

Gen. Caldwell said he is sensitive to the concern that the United States is creating dependence and is looking for ways of cutting costs.

“This dependency is something that we think about all the time,” he said. “We know the sooner the Afghan systems are up and running the sooner coalition forces can transition responsibilities to the sovereign government.”

Story Continues →