November 03, 2009

The Cost of Civilians at War

I was talking on Friday night with a friend of mine who works on Afghanistan policy, and we began discussing the trickle (or "surge") of civilians into southern and eastern Afghanistan to facilitate operations there. One of the things I had not realized was that while the cost of deploying a U.S. Army BCT to Afghanistan for a year is high ($8.2 billion, to be exact), so too is the cost of deploying a civilian for a similar 12-month tour of duty. Once you add the costs up, a civilian in Afghanistan costs approximately $500,000 to feed, secure, pay and equip for a 12-month period. (If you're a British civilian, meanwhile, the costs go up to approximately $800,000. Pesky weak dollar...)

The extreme cost of deploying civilians to war zones is just one of the reasons why a vast army of civilians is not being deployed into Afghanistan as those who read the president's new policy issued in March (.pdf) might have expected. One of the things that civilians and military officers already serving in Afghanistan have stressed for the past few years is that how many civilians you send to Afghanistan matters far less than which civilians with which skills you send. Lenin may have claimed that quantity has a quality all its own, but operators on the ground attest to the fact that bad civilian personnel are worse than no civilian personnel.

I am now off to a coffee to discuss precisely these issues with two friends who know more about aid and development in Afghanistan than any other two people I know. One question before I go, though: we all know Matthew Hoh, since returning from four months in Zabul Province, has spoken with everyone from the Washington Post to Fareed Zakaria to Tony Blinken. But Hoh's predecessor in Zabul, who I met while visiting this summer, is apparently also now back in the country after serving in Zabul for the full 12 month tour. Is anyone making an effort to reach out to her?

I doubt it.