A new consideration could tip the balance in favor of those U.S. policymakers arguing for decreasing the scope of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan: the cost of the war.
"Money is the new 800-pound gorilla," an unnamed senior Obama administration official told the Washington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekaran. "It shifts the debate from 'Is the strategy working?' to 'Can we afford this?' And when you view it that way, the scope of the mission that we have now is far, far less defensible."
The United States has allocated $113 billion for military operations in Afghanistan in fiscal year 2011, and has requested $107 billion for next year, Chandrasekaran reports. That comes out to approximately $1 million for every U.S. soldier deployed there, he calculates--a much higher figure than had been the case for U.S. troops in Iraq. Escalating war costs in Afghanistan are due to the expense of bringing in fuel and material to the landlocked nation--as well as the cost of having to build military bases there from scratch.
The U.S. military, which has already spent $28 billion trying to build up Afghanistan's army, is requesting an additional $12.8 billion for the task next year. Military planners have viewed the training mission as essential to the reaching the 2014 deadline to have Afghan security forces take over national security efforts that have previously fallen to international forces.
But civilian Obama administration officials, apparently pushing back on the requested Pentagon training budget, have begun questioning the logic of paying to build up a major Afghan military force that the country will not be able to pay for on its own.
And the Obama administration increasingly wants to allocate sparse foreign assistance spending on aiding Arab nations' transition to democracy--especially in Tunisia and Egypt, the most populous Arab country.
The budget rumblings from Washington come as Afghan President Hamid Karzai issued a new protest against NATO air strikes accidentally killing Afghan civilians. Karzai's demand that NATO call off night-time airstrikes on Afghan homes came after a NATO air strike killed nine civilians, including children, in Helmand Province Saturday.
"From this moment, airstrikes on the houses of people are not allowed," Karzai said at a presidential palace news conference Tuesday, the Washington Post's Joshua Partlow and Javed Hamdard report.
"Afghanistan is an ally, not an occupied country. And our treatment with NATO is from the point of view of an ally. If it turns to the other, to the behavior of an occupation, then of course the Afghan people know how to deal with that," the Afghan leader said.
Karzai has often had a tense relationship with the United States--but his latest ultimatum was a starker warning, suggesting that he may be intending to depict NATO peacekeepers as unwelcome, the Post said.
"Although Karzai has a history of provocative statements, his words on Tuesday raised the confrontation between his government and the U.S.-led coalition to a new level," Partlow and Hamdard write. "He has rarely spoken so directly about NATO forces being a potential enemy of the Afghan people."
(Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks tells a press conference at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan on May 31, 2011 that he will no longer allow NATO airstrikes on houses: Musadeq Sadeq/AP)