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Canwest News Service, January 9, 2010

Afghanistan mission price tag passes 525,000 Dollar per soldier

Tally doesn't include salaries or equipment


KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — It costs taxpayers about $525,000 a year to keep one Canadian soldier in Afghanistan, according to the simplest calculation possible, which is to divide the approximately $1.5-billion cost of the mission for the 2009/2010 fiscal year by the 2,850 troops who are part of it.

Canadian troops killed in Afghanistan
Nor does it include the $2 billion in equipment and infrastructure that Canada currently has in Afghanistan.

These figures does not take into account soldiers' salaries and benefits or the long-term health-care costs associated with service in South Asia. They are in line with official Pentagon estimates of what it costs to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

"We don't break down costs by individuals. We look at what is the requirement to meet operational demands," said Maj. Brad Wells, of Edmonton, who until late last year was responsible for paying all Canada's bills in Afghanistan.

"What is the our budget here? About $250 million is the starting point for operations and maintenance. But that does not include strategic airlift, CANCAP (Canadian civilian contractors), our helicopters or the helicopters that we charter."

Nor does it include the $2 billion in equipment and infrastructure that Canada currently has in Afghanistan.

Whatever the precise costs of keeping so many Canadians in Afghanistan, fighting a war in a landlocked country halfway around the world that has limited, dangerous and politically complicated access by road is a hugely expensive undertaking. Everything from pens to toilet paper, ear plugs and rations must be brought in and then, in many cases, moved out again into the field.

"I would not want to hazard a guess on how much extra it costs for something that we use here compared to what we would pay for the same thing in Canada, but a lot of the costs are for transport," Wells said.

Maj. Tim Duncan, who was responsible for land and sea movements for the Task Force until November, went even further, adding, "Often the price to deliver a product is greater than the actual cost of the product."

Canada shelled out $241,000 U.S. a week for fuel for its aircraft and surface vehicles in Afghanistan in 2009, according to statistics provided by military public affairs officers in Afghanistan.

The task force's fleet of helicopters and transport aircraft at Kandahar Airfield consumed approximately 130,000 litres of fuel at a cost of $155,000 a week. Just as it does in Canada and on world markets, prices for this fuel varied widely in 2009, with costs ranging from 99 cents to $1.62 a litre.

The other $86,000 a week that Canada spent on fuel was for diesel and gas to power generators and to keep armoured trucks, personnel carriers and tanks moving across Kandahar.

This figure, which was based on weekly usage from June until November, does not include the considerable additional cost of getting that fuel out to troops sometimes operating in remote areas. According to the Economist magazine, it sometimes takes the British army almost seven gallons (31.5 litres) of fuel to deliver one gallon of fuel into the field and as much as $400 a gallon to deliver fuel by helicopter to remote bases.

On top of its whopping fuel bill, Canada shelled out $20.5 million this year to a NATO-affiliated company to feed the approximately 1,000 Canadian troops based at Kandahar Airfield. This works out to about $20,500 a year for food for every soldier.

Although precise figures were impossible to come by, it cost even more to feed Canada's 1,250 forward deployed combat troops and the 300 other troops who are part of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kandahar City. Their victuals were provided by and delivered to Kandahar Airfield by a company based in the Persian Gulf and then moved out to troops in the field by heavily guarded combat logistics patrols.

To keep the mission up and running, a military Airbus and a C-17 jumbo transport make the 20,000-kilometre round trip at least once a week between Trenton, Ont., and the region. The air bridge also includes at least two Canadian C-130 Hercules flights into Kandahar every week as well as six or seven chartered Russian jumbo transports a month that can cost as much as $1.5 million per flight.

The Canadian Forces also operate a land and sea bridge from Montreal to Kandahar Airfield via Karachi, Pakistan. It includes as many as 20 sea containers a month of less critical supplies and supplies that would have no military value to the enemy. Among the many items carried in these sea and land convoys are refrigerated containers with coffee, juice and cooking dough for the wildly popular Tim Hortons outlet at the airfield.

Whatever the logistical hurdles, which are many, "We try to make sure the soldier does not know that we exist," said Tim Duncan, the movements officer. "We try to make it look like smoke and mirrors."

During September and October, Brad Wells and his staff of seven military accountants paid out slightly less than $5 million a week in-country.

"I'm kind of the banker here," Wells said in something of an understatement.

As well as handling the military accounts and the salaries of dozens of Afghan translators and a fleet of vehicles used on base, which are rented from Afghan suppliers to help develop the local economy, Wells' office holds in trust and helps process about $9 million a year of expenses incurred by the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Canadian International Development Agency in Afghanistan. It also doles out money to Afghans who work on economic development projects.

Afghanistan is infamous for corruption, so particular care is taken when spending involves Afghans.

"There is a big demand for cash here," Wells said. "But there is a greater chance of bad things happening with cash so as we try to build Afghan capacity, we want them to use a banking system.

"However, this is not always possible. For example, local Afghans are engaged to work on road repair and we pay them cash because, obviously, these people do not have bank accounts."

Although there have sometimes been unexpected and unusual expenditures, record keeping for the hundreds of millions of dollars being spent by soldiers in Afghanistan is done exactly as it would be in Canada.

"There are soldiers out there with money to affect certain activities," Wells said. "As in any operation there are also contingency funds, but all the funding lines must follow Canadian policy. We have to substantiate what we spend money on. If there is an incremental cost, we need to go to Ottawa for permission."

Category: US-NATO - Views: 25083