Sunday, October 18, 2009

Guns vs. Butter

For critics claiming we cannot afford health care reform for our own people and the proposals are not cost sustainable, consider these apples.

It costs about $400 a gallon to deliver fuel to our troops in Afghanistan. The Pentagon reports it costs about $1 billion for ever 1,000 troops in that land-locked nation which has an infrastructure worse than the poorest barrio in Tia Juana, Mexico. The military is asking for an appropriation of $1.3 billion this year just to build things so the troops can carry out their mission. Only a fraction of those expenditures in roads, water and electrical systems would help the Afghans.

By the way, that $400/gal delivery price started out at the standard price of $2.78, according to the Defense Energy Support Center.

This information comes courtesy of The Hill newspaper which tapped its Pentagon and Congressional sources and quoted articles from trade journals. “It is a number that we were not aware of and it is worrisome,” Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), the chairman of the House Appropriations Defense panel, said in an interview with The Hill. “When I heard that figure from the Defense Department, we started looking into it.”

According to the article, the problem is logistics. Afghanistan has no seaports and a shortage of airports and navigable roads where thousands of IEDs are buried. The nearest port is in Karachi, Pakistan, where fuel for U.S. troops is shipped.

From there, commercial trucks transport the fuel through Pakistan and Afghanistan, sometimes changing carriers. Fuel is then transferred to storage locations in Afghanistan for movement within the country. Military transport is used to distribute fuel to forward operating bases. For many remote locations, this means fuel supplies must be provided by air, by far the most expensive delivery system.

An estimated 80% of U.S. military casualties in Afghanistan are caused by improvised explosive devices in the roads, forcing the need to use aircraft for transportation inside the country. The Government Accounting Office reported that in June 2008 alone , 44 trucks and 220,000 gallons of fuel were lost due to attacks. U.S. marines by themselves need 800,000 a day to conduct their missions, according to the GAO report.

These logistical problems are only one of many reasons President Obama has delayed a reported request for up to 40,000 additional troops in Afghanistan by Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

Meanwhile, Stanley Pincus,, the veteran Pentagon reporter for The Washington Post says the
$1.3 billion appropriation bill would add to the $2.7 billion the military has already spent in construction projects over the past three fiscal years.

At Bagram, the main U.S. base in Afghanistan, the military is planning to build a $30 million passenger terminal and adjacent cargo facility to handle the flow of troops, many of whom arrive at the base north of Kabul before moving onto other sites. The daily volume is approximately 1,000 passengers and 400 short tons of cargo each day but is expected to increase to 1,650 passengers daily. A $25 million project to expand the paved aircraft parking area to hold 18 fighter aircraft also is underway.

There's more:

The military is also spending hundreds of millions of dollars constructing facilities for the Afghan army and police. The U.S.-led coalition recently announced the opening of a $68 million, U.S.-financed forward operating base near Farah, in the western part of the country bordering on Iran. The base will house 2,000 Afghan soldiers and an American mentoring team.

Pincus reports a total of 30 U.S. bases in Afghanistan would be improved with the $1.3 billion appropriations.

From a cost-benefit ratio Afghanistan is a loser. The mission seems to keep the Taliban from regaining power and al quada extremists out in a country thirsty for some nation-building stimulus led by a crooked government and a people who are war-weary and want to be left alone.

There is already some evidence al quada and other terrorists groups are spreading to other areas to kill the infidels in Pakistan and create bases of operations in Somalia, Sudan and other middle and southeastern Asian hell holes.

The only attraction offered by Afghanistan is its fertile poppy fields some government officials, the Taliban and al quada tap as an ATM machine to finance their causes.

We're talking about the age-old circular question of guns vs. butter. Afghanistan is not Iraq. Look 10 years down the road and one sees the same old same old. Not much better or worse than eight years ago when we had a purpose to retaliate for 9/11.

At $400/gal and $1 billion/1,000 troops, one would think we could get more bang for our bucks by providing affordable health care and breathing cleaner air right here at home in River City.

No comments: