Afghanistan: 30,000 troops, $30 billion a year

By Jeanne Sahadi, CNNMoney.com senior writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- War is expensive, and it's about to get more so as the U.S. government escalates its military efforts in Afghanistan.

President Obama announced Tuesday evening that he will send 30,000 more troops to the embattled country in the first half of 2010. Currently there are 68,000 American troops in Afghanistan, a senior administration official said in a briefing earlier in the day.

The question of how to pay for expanding their numbers - a cost estimated at $30 billion a year - will be a key point as lawmakers debate the president's decision in the coming days.

Over the past eight years, the roughly $1 trillion cost of the military's efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan was essentially charged to the national credit card.

Will it be different this time?

There's some chance lawmakers may opt to pay the bill as it comes due, rather than letting the balance and interest accrue. It's not the first time the idea has come up, but it may be the first time the idea is given serious consideration.

A big part of the context for deciding whether and how to pay for a buildup are the growing deficits that have become a political and financial albatross. The country's accumulated debt is expected to rise from $12 trillion today to $21 trillion by the end of 2019.

Obama didn't detail how he would pay for the costs of expanding troops in Afghanistan. But he signaled that they wouldn't be left unpaid for.

"I am committed to addressing these costs openly and honestly. Our new approach in Afghanistan is likely to cost us roughly $30 billion for the military this year, and I will work closely with Congress to address these costs as we work to bring down our deficit," the president said.

David Obey, D-Wis., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and other leading Democratic congressmen have proposed a graduated war surtax beginning in 2011 to pay for U.S. military efforts going forward. The amount of tax collected would have to be sufficient to cover the full war costs of the previous year.

The surtax would start at 1% for anyone with taxable income and increase gradually up the income scale to as much as 5% for the highest-income households.

The only people exempt from having to pay the war surtax would be members of the military who have served in combat since Sept. 11, 2001, their families and the families of military members who died in combat.

"Regardless of whether one favors the war or not, if it is to be fought, it ought to be paid for," Obey said in a statement. "The only people who've paid any price for our military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan are our military families."

Separately, Obey noted that if the cost of the Afghan war isn't paid for it will "wipe out every other initiative that we have to try to rebuild our own economy."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., meanwhile, has acknowledged the issue is very much on the minds of legislators, but on Tuesday seemed to pour cold water on the idea of a surtax.

"I think the war has to be paid for. That may be one option, but I don't think that has a good prospect," she told CNN.

In the Senate, Armed Service Committee Carl Levin, D-Mich., told Bloomberg Television last month that he could support a war tax levied on those making more than $200,000.

Obama, however, did not say specifically what tax - if any - he might support to pay for future efforts in Afghanistan.

- CNN's Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report. To top of page

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