Randall Schriver, the assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday that the war in Afghanistan will cost $45 billion in 2018, its 17th year.
Schriver said the 2018 pricetag includes about $13 billion for U.S. forces in the country, $5 billion for Afghan forces, $780 million for economic aid and the rest for logistical support.
In August of last year, President Trump announced a new Afghanistan strategy, with no end date and no cost estimate.
During the announcement, Trump said that he would send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan to train, assist and advise more Afghan fighters, increasing the number of forces in the country from 8,400 to 14,000.
Lawmakers from both parties were critical of the 2018 costs and new strategy.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) argued that billions in taxpayer treasure are “just being thrown down a hatch in Afghanistan,” and the Afghans still “don’t seem to be able to defend themselves.”
“I think there’s an argument to be made that our national security is actually made more perilous the more we spend and the longer we stay there. …We’re in an impossible situation,” Paul said. “I just don’t think there is a military solution.”
The Hill added:
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), meanwhile, questioned why the Taliban would want a political settlement as they “now control more territory than they did since 2001” when the United States invaded the country after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
But the committee’s chairman, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), said the administration’s strategy was “better” than the Obama administration’s, since it’s not limited by a timetable and pressures Pakistan to end support for Afghan terrorist groups.
Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, who spoke alongside Schriver, defended the strategy.
“I think our policy acknowledges that there isn’t a military solution or a complete solution,” Sullivan said.
“I understand it’s America’s longest war, but our security interests in Afghanistan, in the region are significant enough…to back the Afghan government in their struggle against the Taliban,” Sullivan said.
When asked about how many Taliban militants are fighting in Afghanistan, neither Sullivan nor Schriver could give an estimate.
“I’m not sure I could give you a number that I have great confidence in,” Schriver said.
According to a NBC News report last week, there are currently as many as 60,000 Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. However, the Pentagon pushed back on the numbers in that report.
“I’d say around 60 percent of the country is controlled by the government, a fraction of it is contested and about 10 or 15 percent is possibly Taliban controlled,” Joint Staff Director Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie told reporters at the Pentagon.
“I think we can chase numbers and say it’s 9,000 or it’s 15,000 all day but I don’t think it’s actually a terribly useful metric,” McKenzie said.