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Cost of more U.S. troops in Afghanistan

A U.S. soldier stands to attention during a change-of-command ceremony at Camp Egger in Kabul, Afghanistan.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: President Obama is set to announce a new round of government spending next week. Not more economic stimulus or bank bailouts. The president said today he will present his plans for Afghanistan, perhaps as early as Tuesday. We asked Marketplace's Steve Henn to start running the numbers for us on how high the tab for that one might go.


STEVE HENN: So how much will expanding the Afghan war effort really cost?

DAVID BERTEAU: Well you know we've had estimates ranging from as low as an average of a half-a-million dollars per new soldier to $1 million or more per soldier.

David Berteau is at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He says that means a 30,000 troop surge could cost anywhere from $15 billion a year to twice that. But really, he says, when it comes to costs it's mostly guess work.

BERTEAU: None of those estimates, of course, actually tie back into the historical record.

John Pike at GlobalSecurity.org believes the estimates floating around Washington are a joke.

JOHN PIKE: You can make these numbers come out any way you want to.

Pike says for years the Pentagon has used war-funding bills for Iraq and Afghanistan for other purposes not related to the wars. In 2006, two-thirds of all of the Army's new equipment was paid for this way. So today no one really knows what these wars have actually cost. And putting an accurate price tag on an Afghan surge is tough.

PIKE: Part of the problem that you have is it depends on how much of a Christmas tree the Afghan war budget turns into.

Still congressional leaders are bracing for a roughly $30-billion budget request. Speaking on WBUR's "Here and Now" earlier today, Congressman David Obey, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, proposed a new war surtax to pay for it.

DAVID OBEY: If we don't do something like this, the cost of the Afghan war over the next 10 years could devour virtually every effort that we want to make to rebuild our own economy here at home.

Obey's bill has already gained support from other important house leaders, including Charlie Rangel, the powerful tax-writing chairman of the Way and Means committee.

In Washington, I'm Steve Henn for Marketplace.

Ryssdal: As we learned in Iraq, with military occupation nowadays usually come civilian contractors. Steve will explore those costs for us on the broadcast tomorrow.

About the author

Steve Henn was Marketplace’s technology and innovation reporter for the entire portfolio of Marketplace programs until December 2011.
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The trouble with "wartime" (or other "emergency") spending is that it tends to become permanent. A column I read recently reported that a telephone surcharge enacted to help pay for the Spanish-American War (which was then a tax that hit only the super-rich, but now hits largely those too poor to afford cell phones) is still on the books more than a century later despite the war only lasting a few months. Income taxes are a similar story. On the other hand, government spending is out of control all over; how about proposing spending cuts to pay for the war instead? Or just spending cuts in general?

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