FACT CHECK: Is The US Spending $50 Billion A Year In Afghanistan?

Kush Desai | Fact Check Reporter

Republican Sen. Rand Paul claimed Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that the U.S. is spending $50 billion a year in Afghanistan.

Verdict: True

Pentagon officials estimate that U.S. spending in Afghanistan will be around $46 billion in 2018.

Fact Check:

While discussing his opposition to the spending bill that Congress passed Friday, Paul highlighted how much the U.S. is spending in Afghanistan to CBS host Major Garrett.

“I think the Afghan war is long past its mission. I think we killed and captured and disrupted the people who attacked us on 9/11 long ago. And I think now it’s a nation-building exercise. We’re spending $50 billion a year,” Paul claimed. “And if the president really is serious about infrastructure, a lot of that money could be spent at home. Instead of building bridges and schools and roads in Afghanistan or in Pakistan, I think we could do that at home.”

He made similar claims on the Senate floor Thursday.

Paul’s figure is in the ballpark. A high-ranking Department of Defense (DoD) official recently told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that his “back of the envelope” estimate of 2018 spending in Afghanistan is around $46 billion.

DoD and State Department officials noted during the hearing that this figure includes about $13 billion for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, $5 billion for Afghan security forces and $780 million in other assistance for the country; the officials did not provide additional detail, but they implied that much of the remaining $27 billion will fund logistical and support operations for U.S. and allied forces in landlocked Afghanistan.

DoD data show that the U.S. government has spent or requested to spend around $50 billion every year in Afghanistan since Fiscal Year 2015.

U.S. spending on Afghanistan, however, has more than halved compared to the $100 billion or more that was annually spent from FY 2010 to FY 2012.

Troop levels have also declined from a peak of 98,000 in FY 2011 to around 14,000 today, although the Trump administration is increasing the U.S. presence in Afghanistan with troop surges and a stepped up bombing campaign amid the Taliban’s resurgence.

The Pentagon has stressed that its key priority remains supporting and training the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) so the country can maintain its own stability and peace.

“Our goal is to increase ANDSF operational capabilities and expand their operational reach by providing advisory support and tailored equipment and training,” a DoD official recently said in written testimony to Congress. “We are focusing our efforts on areas where they lack key capabilities, such as aviation and intelligence.”

The U.S. has appropriated or allocated $76 billion to support Afghan forces since FY 2002, including funding for equipment like helicopters, rifles and Humvees. And as Paul noted, the U.S. has additionally spent billions building or re-building Afghanistan’s (and Pakistan’s) infrastructure and schools.

This spending has had some success in turning Afghanistan around. More than nine million of Afghan children are reportedly enrolled in schools, compared with less than a million in 2001; girls also enrolled in schools for the first time in years. Thousands of miles of roadways have also been built, along with bridges and other critical infrastructure.

Despite these improvements, Rebecca Zimmerman of the RAND Corporation, a think tank, underscored that much of U.S. aid funding ends up wasted. “It doesn’t have to do with our direct spending, but with the economic environment we implicitly created,” she explained. “The U.S. way of spending, with contracting rules and so forth, led to this system of multiple tiers of contractors taking a cut off the top.”

Investigations by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) and journalists have also uncovered exaggerated school attendance rates, systemic corruption and poor maintenance or utilization of U.S.-built infrastructure.

Zimmerman cautioned that it is too early to really evaluate investments like education that are generational in nature for a country as historically underdeveloped as Afghanistan. “Back in the day, you had this tiny percentage of Afghanistan getting an elite education,” she said. “As for education as a tool of de-radicalization, I think the jury is really going to be out on that for years.”

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Kush Desai

Fact Check Reporter