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Details of Secret Pact Emerge: Troops Stuck in Afghanistan Until 2024

If you thought President Obama was ending the war in Afghanistan, think again. Your children will be fighting it in 2024 if the Pentagon has its way.

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Or look forward to years more of reports like the one issued in April by the IG pointing out that some of the $10 billion a year being poured into training, building up, and supplying Afghanistan’s police is simply missing-in-action. Gone. Nowhere in sight. Not accounted for. The IG reported that “the country's police rolls and payrolls cannot be verified because of poor record keeping,” which meant that the numbers “for all practical purposes become somewhat fictitious.” In other words, you can expect 13 more years in which your tax dollars fund significant numbers of “ghost policemen.”

Or look forward to more than a decade of news articles and official reports on the approximately 30 percent of Afghan army troops who desert each year. (Lieutenant General Caldwell supplied that figure in June.) To be exact, if enrolment in the army reaches 171,600 by this October, as scheduled, you’re talking about slightly more than 51,000 deserters a year, or a minimum of 668,000 by 2024 (and since army troop levels are slated to rise, however absurd that number already sounds, it’s undoubtedly an underestimate).

Or consider the cost of the war as reflected in the Pentagon’s 2012 budget request: $107.3 billion a year. (Of course, like those police figures, that’s probably a kind of happy fiction.) A group of experts on the Afghan war, for example, puts the actual number at $120 billion -- and neither of these figures includes the money that Washington will be spending in 2024 and beyond to care for the war’s damaged veterans. Still, just for argument’s sake, let’s go with $107 billion a year through 2014, when the last U.S. “combat” troops are slated to depart, and then just arbitrarily slash that figure by half to 2024. That would total $856 billion over the next 13 years.  (By comparison, were President Obama’s proposals to close corporate tax loopholes and tax the mega-rich at Clinton-era rates put into effect, that would pull in only $700 billion over 10 years.)

And of course, while a rollicking good time would be had by all over those 13 years of training local forces and carrying out special operations and air missions in the greater Afghan region, a newly released report from the Medicare and Social Security Trustees predicts that “the Hospital Insurance fund, which pays for hospital stays of Medicare recipients, will run out in 2024, five years earlier than last year's report estimate.” And don’t even think about what’s likely to happen to America’s infrastructure, already sorely underfunded -- all those dams, bridges, natural gas pipelines, roads, and other basics of our lives -- in those same years. 

I could go on, but you get the idea. If by dint of sheer grit and tons of dough, the Pentagon somehow outlasts the Taliban (and whatever is left of al-Qaeda in the region), victory in Afghanistan in 2024 will assumedly leave in place a desperately frail semi-nation with a still-hemorrhaging security force of 400,000 that it will be utterly incapable of paying for.

In the meantime, the U.S. will undoubtedly be a nation unbuilt. Still, what a 13 years to look forward to! 

So mark it on your calendars. If that Washington-Kabul pact goes through as planned, consider it settled: victory in 2024 and mission accomplished.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s as well as The End of Victory Culture , runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. His latest book, The United States of Fear (Haymarket Books), will be published in November.

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