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Obama's Afghanistan war plan: How will he pay for it?

It will cost an additional $30 billion a year. Some antiwar Democrats in Congress talk of a 'war tax,' but the most likely option to fund Obama's Afghanistan war plan is to keep borrowing.

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But House and Senate Democratic leaders – as well as many Republicans – have sounded less than enthusiastic about a new Afghan-related levy. Instead, key Democrats have said they will try to fund the war effort without raising taxes during an economic downturn. Like the president, they have been vague about what that funding effort might entail.

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Given that 2010 is an election year, the war-tax effort is doomed from the start, and its proponents know that, says Gordon Adams, Office of Management and Budget associate director for national security during the Clinton administration. They may be just trying to make a point about their opposition to the new Afghanistan strategy.

Finding places to cut elsewhere in the federal budget and offset the new war costs will be difficult, because the 2010 budget was drawn up long ago, adds Mr. Adams.

So, how will Congress ultimately pay for the Afghan spending?

"Yeah, they'll borrow it," says Adams, a professor of international relations at the American University and co-author of a new book on defense budgeting.

$1 trillion and counting

Meanwhile, the new spending seems set to push the total cost of the Afghanistan and Iraqi wars over the $1 trillion mark, according to the Congressional Research Service.

While the larger Iraq war has been more expensive overall, the Afghan conflict is much more expensive on a per-soldier basis, according to an analysis from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

Over the past five years, the cost per troop in Iraq has been about $556,000 per year, while the same figure for Afghanistan has been $1.1 million, according to CSBA.

The differential might be explained by the economies of scale inherent in the larger forces in Iraq, said CSBA analyst Todd Harrison. It might also be due to the longer and more difficult-to-traverse supply lines of the Afghan conflict.

The cost of fuel is one of the most expensive aspects of maintaining deployed forces in the region. Due to fuel-gulping weapons and bases, each soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan needs about 8,000 gallons of fuel per year. Due to the need to protect fuel convoys with heavy security, the delivered cost of fuel in the region is from $25 to $45 per gallon.

“Fuel costs alone make up some $200-350 thousand of the cost per troop per year,” writes Todd Harrison in a new analysis of estimated Afghanistan funding.

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See also:

Obama's lonely road in Afghanistan

How Obama's speech sounded to Afghans

Obama's Afghanistan timeline adheres to McChyrstal's assessment

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