Extra civilians in Afghanistan cost $2 billion

AP News
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Posted: Sep 08, 2011 3:48 PM
Extra civilians in Afghanistan cost $2 billion

It cost nearly $2 billion over the last two years to send hundreds of extra U.S. civilians to Afghanistan to help with development projects, the economy and training Afghan government officials, a report said Thursday.

Sending just one employee to Afghanistan for one year, excluding infrastructure and security needed to support that person, costs the government between $410,000 and $570,000, according to the joint report by the offices of the State Department inspector general and the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction.

The report was released as senior U.S. and Afghan officials opened a third round of talks at the State Department and White House on an agreement that would govern relations between the countries after U.S. forces pull out. The two sides remain split over terms for U.S. use of bases in Afghanistan after 2014, among other things. Afghanistan is seeking a stronger, more binding agreement than the U.S. has offered, and negotiations have lagged.

The report on the cost of civilian operations said that determining future costs will be a challenge amid U.S. budget uncertainties and because it's not known exactly how many civilians will be needed in Afghanistan as troops are withdrawn.

Civilians from the departments of State, Agriculture and Justice and from other agencies increased to 1,040 in June from 320 in early 2009, the report said. The boost was a key element in efforts to improve the Afghans' ability to govern themselves.

"State and other agencies are likely to experience increased costs related to an expanded civilian presence in Afghanistan, and State faces significant challenges in planning to address these costs," the report said. The military's withdrawal will likely lead to more costs for the State Department as it opens new consulates and assumes some key security activities now done by troops.

At the State Department, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Afghanistan's national security adviser, Rangin Dadfar Spanta, met as part of the effort to produce a strategic partnership document that lays out the scope and scale of long-term cooperation. The department said the framework will reaffirm shared values and a commitment to a stable, independent Afghanistan that is not a haven for extremists.

The agreement, now in draft form, would give the U.S. use of Afghan-run or jointly run bases after 2014, when the formal combat role is set to end. Senior U.S. officials have said its central function is to provide assurance to Afghans that the U.S. will not shut the door on Afghanistan in 2014, while establishing terms for continued U.S. counterterrorism, training and counternarcotics operations.

U.S. officials stress that U.S. military presence will be at Afghanistan's invitation. A State Department notice about the talks said the U.S. would respect Afghan sovereignty and noted that there were no plans for permanent American military bases in Afghanistan or "a presence that would be a threat to any of Afghanistan's neighbors."

Lower-level meetings will continue at the White House on Friday.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that the U.S. hoped for progress but didn't expect to complete the framework at this round of talks. Senior U.S. and Afghan officials have said they hope to complete the deal ahead of an international conference on Afghanistan's future in Bonn, Germany, in December, although there is no deadline for an agreement.

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Associated Press writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.