President Obama's brain trust on Afghanistan does not know much the U.S. spends on the war each year or the American cost in lost lives on the battlefield.
This embarrassing lack of basic knowledge by State Department and Pentagon specialists on Afghanistan at a House committee hearing Wednesday prompted even a Democrat to say he was stunned.
The setting was the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
The issue: Afghanistan and the transition to fewer U.S. troops after 2014.
The panel of witnesses: James F. Dobbins, the State Department's special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan; Donald Sampler, assistant to the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, which provides civilian foreign aid; and Michael Dumont, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia.
When it came time for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, to quiz the witnesses, he asked what he thought was a simple question: "How much are we spending annually in Afghanistan? How much is the cost to the American taxpayer?"
He was met with stone silence.
Mr. Dobbins gestured to the other witnesses for the answer. They, too, came up empty.
"Anybody know?" Mr. Rohrabacher asked. "Nobody knows the total budget, what we're spending in Afghanistan? It's a hearing on Afghanistan. Can I have an estimate?
"I'm sorry, congressman," Mr. Dobbins said.
Mr. Rohrabacher called the lack of an answer "disheartening."
"How many killed and wounded have we suffered in the last 12 months?" he asked.
Again, none of the three had an answer. Mr. Dumont said he would get back to him.
"We're supposed to believe you fellows have a plan that is going to end up in a positive way in Afghanistan," the congressman said. "Holy cow."
Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, Virginia Democrat, said he was stunned.
"I say to the panel, Mr. Rohrabacher is right. How you can come to a congressional oversight hearing on this subject, with your titles, and not know how much we're spending every year and not know how many casualties we incurred this last year?" Mr. Connolly said. "I will say to the chairman of this committee, [this] is actually a stunning, stunning development."
According to the Pentagon's fiscal 2013 budget, it is spending about $88 billion this year to wage war in Afghanistan. The State Department budget allocates $4.6 billion in aid and operations.
The U.S. has lost 118 service members this year, according to the website icasualties.org.
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