Last month, the Congressional Research Service published its new paper, “The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11.” Not only does the report provide a look back at the $1.6 trillion spent since September 11, 2001, it also addresses the potential costs of war over the next year.
With enactment of the FY2014 Consolidated Appropriations Act on January 1, 2014 (H.R. 3547/P.L. 113-73), Congress has approved appropriations for the past 13 years of war that total $1.6 trillion for military operations, base support, weapons maintenance, training of Afghan and Iraq security forces, reconstruction, foreign aid, embassy costs, and veterans’ health care for the war operations initiated since the 9/11 attacks.
Of this $1.6 trillion total, CRS estimates that the total is distributed as follows:
• $686 billion (43%) for Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) for Afghanistan and other counterterror operations received;
• $815 billion (51%) for Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF)/Operation New Dawn (OND);
• $27 billion (2%) for Operation Noble Eagle (ONE), providing enhanced security at military bases; and
• $81 billion (5%) for war-designated funding not considered directly related to the Afghanistan or Iraq wars.
About 92% of the funds are for Department of Defense (DOD), 6% for State Department foreign aid programs and diplomatic operations, 1% for Department of Veterans Administration’s medical care for veterans. In addition, 5% of the funds (across agencies) are for programs and activities tangentially-related to war operations.
The FY2015 war request for DOD, State/USAID, and Veterans Administration Medical totals $73.5 billion including $58.1 billion for Afghanistan, $5.0 billion for Iraq, $ 100 million for enhanced security, and $10.4 billion for other war-designated funding. These totals do not reflect the new FY2015 request submitted in November 2014 to cover expenses for Operations Inherent Resolve (OIR) that began with airstrikes launched in late August 2014, to aid Syrian insurgents and the Iraq government to counter the takeover of territory by the Islamic State (IS). The Administration submitted a $5.5 billion FY2015 budget amendment for this operation that Congress is considering. Including the new request, the FY2015 war funding now totals $79.0 billion.
In late May 2014, the President announced that troop levels in Afghanistan would fall from 33,000 to 9,800 by January 1, 2015 with the U.S. role focusing on advising Afghan security forces and conducting counter-terror operations. A year later, by January 1, 2016, the President stated that the number of troops in Afghanistan would halve to about 4,900 and then by the beginning of 2017, settle at an embassy presence of about 1,000.
Overall U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan and Iraq began to decline with the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq by December 2011. The troop decline continued with President Obama’s announcement in February 2013 that the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan would halve from 67,000 to 34,000 by February 2014. Annual war costs also decreased from a peak of $195 billion in FY2008 to $95 billion enacted in FY2014. After the reversal of the 2009 Afghanistan surge, the President promised in the 2013 State of the Union address that “our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan security forces move into the lead [and] our mission will change from combat to support.” He also stated that by “2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.”
The FY2015 Continuing Resolution (H.J.Res. 124/P.L. 113-164) sets war funding at the FY2014 enacted level of $95.5 billion, which exceeds the FY2015 amended request (with OIR) by about $16.5 billion. The CR expires on December 11, 2014, and Congress is expected to enact another CR or an Omnibus appropriations act for the rest of the fiscal year.
Congress may face several budgetary issues about how to respond to the FY2015 war request and longer-term war cost issues including: • assessing the amount, purposes, and level of funding to support U.S. troops during the post-2014 drawdown;
• evaluating the Administration proposal for a new flexible funding account that would provide $5 billion for a Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund (CTFP) to respond to unspecified “evolving threats from South Asia to the Sahel” by “building partnership capacity” through Train & Equip programs;
• defining what is an appropriate war-related cost as opposed to what is in the base, non-war budget, a choice made more difficult in part by the potential squeeze on agencies’ base budgets that are subject to Budget Control Act spending limits (P.L. 112-25);
• estimating the potential long-term cost of the war, including repairing and replacing war-worn equipment and maintaining an “enduring presence” that could entail a substantial footprint in the region; and
• responding to the November 2014 request for $5.5 billion for Operation Inherent Resolve, the new operation to counter the Islamic State.
There are some indications that the FY2015 DOD war funding request may be more than is needed in light of FY2014 experience when expenses for returning troops and equipment have proven to be lower and the pace faster than anticipated. If expenses are lower and withdrawal is faster than anticipated, the FY2015 request may also include excess funds that could be used to pay for part or all of the new $5.5 billion request to counter the Islamic State. Savings in FY2015 could be partly offset by the recent announcement by Secretary Hagel that up to 1,000 U.S. troops could be kept in Afghanistan until the spring of 2015 to substitute for a delay in NATO troops being available to provide needed support.
Members have raised various concerns about the broad authorities requested for the new CTPF, which exceed current authorities for other Train & Equip programs. The conference version of the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act, H.R. 3797, reduces the funding and rejects most of the new authorities requested. Other concerns include the lack of evidence of success in previous similar programs, particularly in situations like the complex political-military environment in Syria and Iraq.
Congress may wish to consider ways to restrict war-funding to exclude activities marginally related to war operations and support, and to limit the use of ground troops in Operation Inherent Resolve.