STEVE CHIOTAKIS: President Obama’s speech tonight will talk about his plans for a troop drawdown. He’s expected to announce plans to pull 10,000 U.S. forces out of the country within the next year. So what are the cost implications for such a withdrawal?
Todd Harrison is the senior fellow for defense budget studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. And he’s with us now. Good morning, sir.
TODD HARRISON: Hello.
CHIOTAKIS: What kind of costs are we talking about to get the troops out of Afghanistan?
HARRISON: Well, there are a number of factors involved here. It’s quite a logistical challenge, just to pick up and move a force that’s been there for almost a decade. We’re looking at not only transporting troops back, but dismantling, uprooting bases, packing up equipment and bringing all of that home. It could cost, you know, billions of dollars. But at the same time, by not having the troops there, we’ll be saving an enormous amount of money.
CHIOTAKIS: Just to put it into perspective, how much money are we talking about to keep the troops there?
HARRISON: Over the past five years or so, it’s cost us an average of $1.2 million per troop per year in Afghanistan. So as we draw down our forces, we’ll be saving over $1 million per troop that we bring out.
CHIOTAKIS: Historically, how would winding down a war in Afghanistan compare to say, other wars and conflicts that we’ve been through in this country?
HARRISON: Under Secretary for Acquisition Ash Carter, he’s referred to Afghanistan as probably the second most logistically difficult place to operate in the world, second only to Antarctica, simply because it’s a landlocked country. The land routes into Afghanistan are a thousand miles over hostile terrain requiring security all along the way. And the country itself has very little infrastructure, so you know, that’s really what’s contributed to making it such an expensive operation and logistically difficult just to get out.
CHIOTAKIS: How do you think the president is running through all these numbers right now?
HARRISON: If you go back to 2001, when we were just beginning the operation in Afghanistan, we had a balanced budget at that time. So if you look at all the decisions in between you know, I think that’s how we gradually evolved to the situation that we’re in today where the deficit has become a top domestic priority. I think there’s increasing pressure to bring down government spending by whatever means necessary.
CHIOTAKIS: Todd Harrison, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. Thank you.
HARRISON: Thank you.
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