Saturday, February 20, 2010

How Much Does It Cost to Kill a Marine vs a Taliban?

The evocative term for the level of spending on a war is burn rate.

In Afghanistan, the burn rate is estimated to exceed $10 million an hour, or more than $8 billion a month. Much of that is literally burned — in the engines of American jeeps, trucks, tanks, aircraft and power generators. On average, each of the 183,000 soldiers currently deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq requires 22 gallons of fuel a day, according to a study by the international accounting firm Deloitte.

Because of a difficult and dangerous supply line that runs more than 1,200 miles through Pakistan, fuel for the troops in Afghanistan is considerably more expensive than for those in Iraq: an average of $48 per gallon counting the cost of transport and protection. Flown by helicopter to positions on remote Afghan front lines, the cost can reach $400 per gallon.

Which helps explain why Afghanistan “is one of the most expensive, perhaps the most expensive, war in U.S. history on a per troop basis,” says Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington think tank. His estimate of the cost per year of a soldier deployed in Afghanistan this year matches the number used by the White House – around $1 million. (The Pentagon says is it is less.)

The staggering cost of the war highlights an aspect of asymmetric warfare which is worth noting: the insurgent has a huge advantage on the financial front. While a Marine Corps combat brigade, for example, burns up around 500,000 gallons of fuel a day (or $24 million, at an average of $48 per gallon), the marines’ insurgent enemies use a tiny fraction of that. They ride around in pickup trucks, or walk. They do not move in Humvees that average four miles per gallon.

The cost-benefit advantage the insurgents enjoy in combat occasionally features on jihadist websites. One video clip makes the point that an improvised explosives device that costs $30 to make can knock out a $3.2 million Bradley Armored Fighting Vehicle.

Both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have so far been financed with borrowed money that makes up part of the country’s deficit. The 2009 budget year, which ended in September, set an all-time high with $1.42 trillion. In 2010, it is expected to reach close to $1.5 trillion.

One way or the other, it’s difficult to see how the administration could balance the books in the absence of a war tax – an idea pushed by several influential Democrats – or painful cuts elsewhere at a time of high unemployment (10 percent) and economic hardship for millions of Americans.

Does that mean the United States is drawing closer to a tipping point, a level of military overstretch and indebtedness that sapped empires in the past?

In an essay at the beginning of the year, a few days before Obama took office, the Harvard historian Paul Kennedy, author of The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, commented that no country on earth had,
anywhere like the staggering array of overseas military commitments and deployments” as the U.S. . . . . more and more that state of international indebtedness we historians associate with the reigns of Philip II of Spain and Louis XIV of France…
If Obama read that, he should have been worried. Under the reign of Philip II from 1556 to 1598, Spain reached the peak of its power, a global empire controlling territories from Europe and the Americas to Asia. It sank to second-rate status through a combination of factors that included wars and massive foreign debt. Louis XIV was involved in four big wars and on his death in 1715, left France deep in debt.


  1. Bring back The British Empire!!!

    Stiff upper lips chaps!

    We had an empire when we were all chinless wonders. Soon as we got smart it all went tits up.

    Stay dumb keep an empire!

  2. Hell of a read, can't help thinking of the Imperial Overstretch suffered by the Roman Empire as well as the Spanish and French financial collapses. It's not looking good.

  3. It seems military spending is the one part of U.S. government that never has to face up to fiscal reality. I don't think there is such a thing as a fiscal "tipping point" in military missions. They just spend what they gotta spend.

  4. Sad that when most Americans speak of govt cost cutting they mean teacher's salaries and AFDC and rarely War spending. We've got a military built to fight the old USSR in Europe. Kind of a Maginot Line in a way although rag-tag insurgents ain't the Wehrmacht.

  5. Well said, Oso (as usual)!

    We are not exactly fighting the Taliban over the Maginot Line, are we? Not along the Rio Grande, either. Neither are we defending a Maginot Line on the banks of the Seine or Rhine rivers. Or, the Danube. Not even along the Han River. Take it from me (I live with a clinical psychologist): only the certifiable insane can see this Obamastan war as a critical national necessity.

  6. Stimpson, it's not that business as usual for the Military Industrial Complex is in effect. It's that Barrack Obama is squandering our limited resources on
    "the most expensive, war in U.S. history on a per troop basis"
    in a medieval dust bowl half the globe away. And that this is happening when we can't - so says the idiocy in Congress - afford to put Americans back to work. Last week, five of my closest friends at work were laid off. Today, there were three tin cups between my car and the supermarket. This war is a multifaceted clusterfuck. Barack Obama is no leader. He is a politician. A leader would have assessed the State of the Union on day one, and told it as it was as it is. A leader would have seen reality, and told the MIC that it was time to stand down on pursuing elective wars for national pride which were started by the previous administration. On day one. But the politician-in-chief thought the American people couldn't face the truth. So, instead of learning how to face the truth from Democrats, they have lapsed back into their steady diet of fear from the Republicans. What this failure of leadership has gotten us? A sustained case of national amnesia. (Who was George Bush, anyways?) What this failure of leadership has gotten us is double-digit unemployment for the indefinite future. What this failure in leadership means is that America's best days are behind her.

    Excuse me. I have to go now, and puke.

  7. Sorry to have come off of sabbatical prematurely...

  8. Vigil,
    Leader vs Politician sums him up perfectly.Good one man!

  9. You nailed it, Vig.

    Sadly, Barack, who I continue to believe has a good heart, has made the conscious choice to be a politician, rather than the leader-in-charge-of-the-change-we-could-all-beleive-in that he promised to deliver if we elected him President. We KNOW he can "bring it" with his eloquent speeches. And, during the campaign, there were a few times when he was able to truthfully discuss loaded issues with all of us. But since his election, he seems unable to speak to the American people with honesty and clarity, to explain to us (as I know he could do if he wanted to) why we need to right the Ship of State, and exactly how we could do it. He throws out a hint from time to time, but he has not seized the reins of the Bully Pulpit and dared to educate and inspire us.

    Our country is desperate for genuine LEADERSHIP, but sadly, Obama has been silent for too long, permitting the Republican'ts to define him, while he has been consumed with his efforts to "change the culture in Washington".

    Apparently, he has decided to opt for not rocking the boat, just making minor "adjustments" to our healthcare crisis, our banking debacle, our out-sourced jobs, and the un-winnable wars that Busheney got us into.

    Our President, Barack Obama, is MIA. And, I sorely miss him.

  10. Sometimes I think the President HAS to be a politician because you do not go into the ring of a Shit Fight with a clean white shirt...nor do you expect to come out of the ring squeeky clean and smelling sweet like a rose either. We need to let him do his job, and support him no matter what, because he is the lesser of two evils and we do not have another savior. If he did not step into the ring we would already be in a depression, if he steps out tomorrow there is no better to replace him. He is not enjoying his job, nor did he take the job to enjoy it, he knows the job is the shittiest job in America and he knows that when he is done he will be all spent and not many may like him and may even call him another Carter, but he is a true American because he is literally giving his life and soul for this shitty job and this shitty public who really do not have the balls or decency to support him while he gets shit flung in his face and tries to fling shit to save them.

  11. T-Luck, are you giving us the straight shit or is all this just ricochet, spray, airburst, splatter and spin?


    Seriously, you make good points. In 2007-08, there was no better candidate for POTUS. (If you assume Howard Dean had an intractable fork in him.) And, in 2009-10 and going forward, there is no better POTUS candidate on the horizon. However, that said.....

    I still wear my hoodie with the numbers 012009. On that date this generation of Americans had a date with destiny. It got stood up.

  12. To quote a Butthead, we're THERE, dude. I am more confident every day that my prediction of less than 4 years for the life of this country as an intact entity is an accurate one. Before too much longer we'll be doing the counting in months.

  13. I think Mr. Rogers is talking about our own USA's future as an intact country. Is that right? Because Afghanistan has never been intact....