The price tag of that Afghan army

How much does it cost to build your own army? The U.S. military is in the process of finding out in Afghanistan, where a key pillar of the counterinsurgency strategy — and indeed, the lynchpin that will allow U.S. troops to eventually pull out — is the creation of a strong, national Afghan military. The ...

By , International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.
AXEL SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images
AXEL SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images
AXEL SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images

How much does it cost to build your own army?

The U.S. military is in the process of finding out in Afghanistan, where a key pillar of the counterinsurgency strategy -- and indeed, the lynchpin that will allow U.S. troops to eventually pull out -- is the creation of a strong, national Afghan military. The goals is to boost troop numbers to 240,000 -- an increase of about 70,000 troops.

The International Crisis Group's latest report is the first publicly available source to put a real pricetag on that project: $3.5 billion a year to create it, and another $2.2 billion a year to sustain it.

How much does it cost to build your own army?

The U.S. military is in the process of finding out in Afghanistan, where a key pillar of the counterinsurgency strategy — and indeed, the lynchpin that will allow U.S. troops to eventually pull out — is the creation of a strong, national Afghan military. The goals is to boost troop numbers to 240,000 — an increase of about 70,000 troops.

The International Crisis Group’s latest report is the first publicly available source to put a real pricetag on that project: $3.5 billion a year to create it, and another $2.2 billion a year to sustain it.

Those numbers probably mean little, and indeed, as Afghanistan analyst Candace Rondeaux told FP yesterday, at this point, the billions spent have blurred into a somewhat imemorable point. But what’s worrisome, she points out, is that there seems to be no plan for how to pay the bills. Particularly after the U.S. military pulls out in 2011, who will pay for the salaries, pensions, and promotions of those newly minted Afghan troops? 

Perhaps this detail will be sorted — or already has been behind closed doors — but I find it rather disturbing nonetheless that homework seems not to have been done from Washington’s side. Attrition rates in the new army — including drop-outs, casualties, desertion and so forth — are already as high as 25 percent. If salaries got paid, those numbers will skyrocket with desertions. And nothing sounds more alamring to me than an army full of newly-trained, armed, Afghan soldiers who have just gone "freelance."

Read the Interntional Crisis Group’s  full report here (pdf).

Elizabeth Dickinson is International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.

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