Today is our 4,755th day in Afghanistan, and our 117th day back in Iraq.
We'll start this morning as we always do; with the latest casualty figures from our ongoing wars, courtesy of Antiwar.com:
US Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 2,347
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,127
Since our return to Iraq - 1
We find today's Cost of War
passing through: $ 1, 572, 509, 900, 000 .00
We're going to stick with the cost of war today. I'll start with something you may have heard from the good Dr. Maddow. Airplanes are expensive to buy and maintain, but they are also full of aluminium, steel, electronics, and rare earths, too. An enterprising salvager can often make some money cutting them up for scrap. But when it's essentially brand-new aircraft being sent to the scrapheap, somebody is coming out of this at a loss. Unfortunately, it's the American taxpayer.
Sixteen unusable transport aircraft that the U.S. government bought for the Afghan Air Force have been scrapped for pennies on the dollar, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.
All told, the Defense Department spent $486 million for 20 G222 planes, of which 16 were sold as scrap to an Afghan construction company for about $32,000, the office announced Thursday in a news release. The remaining four planes are being stored at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
The Air Force let the contract for the planes — designated as C-27As by the U.S. government — with Alenia Aermacchi North America expire in March 2013 because the planes were often grounded due to a lack of spare parts.
After flight operations ended, the 16 planes in Afghanistan sat on the tarmac at Kabul International Airport until they were recently scrapped by the Defense Logistics Agency and sold for 6 cents per pound of scrapped material, wrote John F. Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, in an Oct. 3 letter to Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James.
“I am concerned that officials responsible for planning and executing the scrapping the planes may not have considered other possible alternatives in order to salvage taxpayer dollars,” Sopko wrote.
Sopko has requested from the Air Force all documentation related to the decision to scrap the planes, including whether any alternatives were considered and what will happen to the four remaining planes. He also wants to know if the Air Force has taken any action against the companies responsible for building and maintaining the planes and if the service made any efforts to return the planes for a refund.
The 16 G222 aircraft were scrapped “to minimize impact on drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan,” a Defense Department spokesman said.
“The Department of Defense and U.S. Air Force will consider plans for the remaining four aircraft and associated items located in Germany consistent with existing disposition procedures, to include screening for outside interest,” the spokesman said in an email. “The Department of Defense (DoD) strives to ensure every reconstruction project is executed in a manner that demonstrates responsible stewardship of taxpayers' dollars.”
But that's just equipment. Since we're back in an actual shooting war again, it's worth looking at the day-to-day operations. Top of the line fighter and attack aircraft aren't cheap - they cost millions to manufacture, and most of them cost many thousands of dollar per hour to fly on fuel costs alone. Then there's the maintenance costs, personnel to support them, and of course weapons, which are essentially expendable. It all adds up.
On Saturday, Oct. 4, Day 58 of the American campaign against the Islamic State, U.S. aircraft carried out nine strikes inside Iraq and Syria, destroying two tanks, three Humvees, one bulldozer and an unidentified vehicle. The strikes also hit several teams of Islamic State fighters and destroyed six of their firing positions.
At first glance, that might seem like a lot of damage. Leaving aside the significance of killing Islamic State militants and only looking at equipment, the tanks were worth an estimated $4.5 to $6.5 million apiece and each Humvee cost $150,000 to $250,000, bringing the total value of the equipment destroyed to somewhere between $9.5 and $13.8 million.
But that’s less impressive when one considers that each U.S. “strike” against the self-proclaimed Islamic State can involve several aircraft and munitions and cost up to $500,000, according to Todd Harrison, an expert with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington-based defense think tank.
Harrison said the cheapest possible strike could cost roughly $50,000 — assuming a single plane dropping one of the cheaper types of bombs. But the majority of airstrikes cost much more, involving F-15s, F-16s, F-22s and other aircraft that cost $9,000 to upward of $20,000 per hour to operate and explosives that cost tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Harrison noted that each strike’s price “depends on the distance to the target site, how long it may need to loiter, what type of aircraft is used, and whether it needs aerial refueling (and how many times).”
But using his $500,000 upper estimate, last Saturday’s strike missions alone cost as much as $4.5 million. And those figures don’t even include the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance flights necessary to scope out targets ahead of strikes, which have helped make even the low-level campaign against the Islamic State hugely expensive. The Pentagon revealed on Monday that it has spent as much as $1.1 billion on military operations against the Islamic State since June.
Even more disheartening, most, if not all, of the equipment being destroyed originally came from the United States — which is why we’re able to estimate its worth. It was given to the Iraqi army ahead of the U.S. military’s withdrawal in 2011 and captured by the Islamic State when it advanced into Iraq earlier this year. That means Washington is now spending hundreds of millions of dollars from the U.S. Treasury to destroy Humvees, tanks and other weapons that American taxpayers purchased. The situation has led some observers to joke that the Pentagon should christen the mission “Operation Hey, That’s My Humvee.”
Last Saturday’s strikes are indicative of a key complexity of the U.S.-led campaign in Iraq and Syria: In throwing its hugely expensive 21st-century weaponry at a band of insurgents, the Pentagon is using planes that can cost nearly $200 million apiece against pickup trucks costing virtually pennies in comparison.
That’s not a new problem for the United States. In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, President George W. Bush famously told four senators that he wasn’t “going to fire a $2 million missile at a $10 empty tent and hit a camel in the butt.”
Just one Tomahawk cruise missile costs more than $1 million. The United States launched at least 47 last month, though many of them reportedly targeted the mysterious Khorasan Group, and not the Islamic State.
But of course, we're not the only ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm sure other countries are also having some trouble with fraud, waste, and abuse....but after reading our lead stories, I'm just stunned by the audacity and hypocrisy of this story.
Glass House, you know?
UNITED NATIONS — The congressionally created watchdog responsible for monitoring U.S. reconstruction funds in Afghanistan blasted the United Nations' chief development agency for exercising a "baffling" lack of oversight of a fraud-tainted, multibillion-dollar program that funds the payroll of the Afghan police.
The Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, on Monday disclosed a series of letter exchanges with Helen Clark, the administrator of the U.N. Development Program (UNDP), detailing the allegations.
The accusations could prove particularly awkward for Clark, a former prime minister of New Zealand who is believed to be a likely candidate to succeed Ban Ki-moon as U.N. secretary-general when the former South Korean foreign minister steps down in December 2016.
Clark has sought to cultivate a reputation in recent months as a reformer, with a series of budget-cutting measures that threatened layoffs at the U.N.'s chief development agency. In July, UNDP announced a plan to eliminate 10 percent of its 1,700 staffers at its New York headquarters and regional hubs in order to "produce a leaner organization, eliminating areas of duplication and relocating more staff" to the field. The charges leveled by the American watchdog, however, could tarnish that record.
John Sopko, the special inspector general, is investigating whether the UNDP-administered Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan may have misspent hundreds of millions of dollars. The fund, also known as LOTFA, has received about $3.17 billion in donations from foreign donors, including $1.2 billion from the United States, since its establishment in 2002. The money pays the salaries and pensions of Afghan national police and other officials.
In a Sept. 12 letter to Clark, Sopko said he is looking into allegations that the Afghan interior ministry may have pocketed more than $200 million in so-called "deductions" over the past decade. He also voiced concern about the Afghan government's payment of inflated salaries, and payments to "ghost employees" who never worked. Sopko said international concern about the possible misuse of funds was running particularly high among European donors, who told him during a recent visit to Afghanistan that the European Union intends to condition more than 30 percent of its future financial contributions to LOTFA to a commitment by Afghan authorities to step up "cooperation and transparency." That could potentially hold up tens of millions of dollars in funding.
A separate audit by the Pentagon's inspector general also uncovered irregularities in the program, including allegations that Afghanistan's interior ministry could not account for $17.4 million in pension withholdings and nearly $10 million in additional payroll deductions during 2013.
But when the Defense Department auditors pressed officials in the Afghan defense ministry to explain the irregularities, "they were warned that if they continued" the inquiry, "their lives may be in jeopardy."
We lost any credibility in critiquing this war long ago; perhaps even the day we invaded in the first place.