Soldiers from the Virginia National Guard prepare to depart for training in Maryland, several weeks before deploying to Afghanistan. (Photo: Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen / Virginia Guard Public Affairs / flickr)
As the US war in Afghanistan spreads toward Pakistan and the strategy drifts to Counter Terrorism (CT), there is no deescalation in sight. In fact, it is increasingly clear that the White House has little intention to significantly draw down troops in July of this year, as promised in President Obama’s West Point speech.
Approximately 36,000 troops will be deployed to Afghanistan in 2011; 28,900 -80%- of those will deploy before July-the first month of President Obama’s promised transition and draw down phases. The deployments are part of the regular troop rotations, but what might this mean for the July 2011 draw down?
Here is a list of deployments compiled by my fellow anti-war organizer and writer Ryan Harvey:
FORT KNOX, KY – Early Winter 2011 (February) 3,500 soldiers
3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division.
FORT CAMPBELL, KY – Early 2011 (February) 2,700 soldiers
159th Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division.
FORT HOOD, TX – Late Winter/Early Spring 2011 3,500 soldiers
1st Cavalry Divison’s Air Cavalry Brigade
FORT CARSON, CO – Spring 2011 3,800 soldiers
2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.
FORT DRUM – Spring 2011 3,500 soldiers
3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division.
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, HI – Late March/April 2011
3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.
FORT LEWIS, WA – Early Spring/Summer 2011 800 soldiers
I Corps Headquarters, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
GERMANY – Spring or Fall 2011 3,500 soldiers
170th and 172nd Infantry Brigade Combat Teams.
FORT BRAGG, NC – Fall 2011 2,800 soldiers
82nd Airborne Combat Aviation Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division.
FORT WAINWRIGHT, AK – Late 2011 3,500 soldiers
1st Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.
OHIO NATIONAL GUARD, OH- May 2011 3,600 Soldiers
37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
NEW YORK NATIONAL GUARD, NY – early 2012 3,500 soldiers
27th Brigade Combat Team.
CAMP LEJEUNE, NC - January 1,400 Marines
26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment.
As long as this list is, it is not exhaustive. For example, several thousand Marines will deploy from Camp Pendleton and Camp Lejeune throughout 2011. This kind of war planning is not uncommon. The underlying point is that President Obama and General Petraeus know exactly now many troops they plan to bring home in July of this year.
What exactly do these impending deployments mean for the July 2011 draw down date in Afghanistan? Most likely that the draw down-deployment combination will represent a net troop withdrawal of only a few Brigade Combat Teams- approximately 9,000-12,000 troops. Could this mean that U.S. is planning an extended engagement in Afghanistan?
Indeed, with the November NATO announcement to end operations in Afghanistan by December 2014, the military seems to be abandoning July 2011. Vice President Joe Biden, an advocate of a more CT centered strategy, has sent mixed messages about both July 2011 and December 2014. Most recently, VP Biden stated that “if the Afghan people want…” the U.S. will “not leav[e] Afghanistan” in 2014.
Just how long will the U.S. stay, Mr. Biden?
If Senator Lindsey Graham has his way, the U.S. might just stay forever. Recently on Meet the Press, Sen. Graham said, “a couple of [permanent] air bases in Afghanistan” could “Change [Pakistan's] behavior.” Sen. Graham also believes the presence of a few air bases would help Afghan security forces edge out the Taliban. Al Qaeda, the given reason for the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, did not even receive mention by the Senator.
Could permanent bases really be on the U.S. agenda in Afghanistan?
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011 (H.R. 5136) explicitly states:
“None of the funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act may be obligated or expended by the United States Government to establish any military installation or base for the purpose of providing for the permanent stationing of United States Armed Forces in Afghanistan.”
However, this bill passed the House, but did not make it through the Senate. A Continuing Resolution (CR)-a bill which extends current funding -was passed to cover funding through March 4th, 2011. There is currently no protection by law preventing the Department of Defense from establishing permanent bases in Afghanistan.
Most alarming, yet, is the Pentagon requested much more money for Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 than it is currently spending. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), average DoD spending in September 2010 reached $5.7 billion per month, a 63% increase over September 2009. At this pace, FY 2011 should cost U.S. taxpayers around $68 billion. The Pentagon actually requested $119 billion to fund Afghanistan war for FY 2011.
The $119 billion request for Afghanistan was granted by Congress in December. As per current monthly spending, that’s somewhere between $40-50 billion more than the General Petraeus should need. As the CBO report says, the FY 2011 request is most likely “overstated.” One Congressional Staffer told me, Congress has “repeatedly overfunded the war.”
This is unconscionable as state and local governments around the country are taking bitter budget medicine-jeopardizing our safety by laying off our police and our future by laying off our teachers; ending the war in Afghanistan is certainly one quick way to free up capital that can then be reinvested back into our communities.
The Los Angeles Times, commenting on Vice President Biden’s recent visit to Afghanistan, said:
“We worry that the administration’s more ambitious goals — a credible government in Afghanistan, the permanent defeat of the Taliban — may prove elusive even after three more years of military involvement, let alone a presence beyond that. We hope that isn’t the case, but regardless of what happens, the United States and NATO should take their own deadlines seriously. That means a significant withdrawal this year and an unambiguous completion of the mission in 2014.”
The American people cannot afford permanent war in Afghanistan- not morally, or financially. Extending the war until 2014 will not deliver the Obama administration’s stated objectives and will cost the American taxpayer nearly half a trillion dollars more. Help FCNL make sure the 112th Congress knows that permanent bases and unending deployments to Afghanistan are unacceptable.
UPDATE: the numbers in this article were updated on January 24th to reflect the additional 1,400 Marines deploying in early 2011.
Matt Southworth is a former intelligence analyst for the Army and presently a Legislative Program Assistant for the Foreign Policy program at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker lobby in the public interest.