Afghan war will cost DND $22-billion: study

Canadian soldiers conduct a foot patrol in Afghanistan. A study estimates that the total cost of the Afghan war, including paying soldiers’ pensions and replenishing supplies would be $22-billion

The Afghan war is going to end up costing the Defence Department more than $22-billion, both in actual money spent on the mission and future payments to rebuild equipment and provide long-term care for veterans, a military conference heard Wednesday.

The figures are contained in a yet-to-be-released study by security analyst David Perry, a former deputy director of Dalhousie University’s Centre for Foreign Policy Studies. The study will be included in an upcoming edition of the International Journal published by the Canadian International Council.

But some of Mr. Perry’s findings were discussed Wednesday at an conference on maritime affairs attended by military leaders and analysts from Canada, the U.S. and several Asia-Pacific nations.

“This is an important work and bang on with the numbers,” said retired commodore Eric Lerhe, who included some of Mr. Perry’s figures in his slide presentation at the conference.

In an interview Wednesday night, Mr. Perry said he was not surprised at the numbers he found. “We’re fighting a war on the other side of the world and that takes a lot of resources,” said Mr. Perry, who is in Ottawa.

He noted that the number of Canadian Afghan veterans is projected to be around 41,000 by 2010. That far exceeds the estimated 25,000 Canadian veterans from the Korean War, Mr. Perry added.

Officials with Defence Minister Peter MacKay’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

The figures don’t include the cost of aid to Afghanistan or the cost of the mission for other federal departments such as the RCMP and Foreign Affairs.

Such figures are expected to soon emerge. On Wednesday Parliament’s new budget officer, Kevin Page, pledged to release his comprehensive study of the cost of the war.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper also said Wednesday he has no objection to the release of that report.

Mr. Harper’s agreement comes one day after all three major opposition leaders called for him to release of the figures.

“As all parties have granted their consent, as soon as the report has been completed – including the completion of the independent peer review process – it can be released during the writ period,” Mr. Page said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

Some the figures used in the Mr. Perry study came from the Defence Department. Other details were estimated using the experiences of the U.S. military and its cost models from the Iraq and Afghan wars.

The breakdown of the Afghan costs is as follows:

• $7 billion for the cost of the war. This is the incremental cost from late 2001 to 2012. It includes everything from ammunition and fuel to the salaries of reservists and contractors. It does not include the salaries of regular force military personnel.

• $11 billion is the estimated future bill for Veterans Affairs and DND for long-term health care of veterans and related benefits, as well as having to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder among troops. Veterans Affairs Canada predicts an increase of 13,000 Canadian Forces members to its client base by 2010. Using American estimates, between 10 to 25 per cent of returning veterans may experience mental health problems as a result of their overseas deployment.

U.S. studies estimate that country’s long-term health care and disability costs for its Iraq and Afghan veterans to be between $350 billion to $650 billion.

• $2 billion for the purchase of mission-specific equipment. That includes everything from Leopard tanks, howitzers, counter-mine vehicles to aerial drones and six Chinook helicopters. Defence officials argue that such equipment will be used on future missions beyond Afghanistan. The figure didn’t include the latest $95 million lease for additional aerial drones.

• $2 billion for the replacement of the military’s LAV-3 fleet. “This fleet is going to be worn out pretty soon from the wear and tear of Afghanistan and will have to be replaced,” said Perry.

• $405 million for repair and overhaul costs.

Mr. Perry’s study also determined the Liberal government had provided extra funding to the Defence Department to cover 85 per cent of the Afghan war costs. The Conservative government, however, is funding only 29% of the cost to the Defence Department for the war, according to the study, with the remaining money coming out of DND’s existing budget.

Mr. Perry said the Conservatives might be providing more funding but that is not apparent from publicly released figures. “The Liberals were much more transparent in the funding they were providing,” he said.

There is growing concern inside the ranks of the military about the real cost of the Afghan conflict. In January, the head of the army warned that the service was stretched almost to the breaking point and replacement stocks of equipment for Afghanistan have long been used up, either destroyed by the enemy or in the process of being repaired.

In the army’s business plan written in January, commander Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie warned that much of the service’s combat vehicle fleet is in need of repair, the result of operating in the harsh Afghan terrain or from excessive use in training in Canada for the war.

“Obviously all of it has to be replaced from existing stocks, but the initial pool of stocked equipment has long since been used up, either destroyed by the foe or is off being repaired,” Lt.-Gen. Leslie wrote.

Additional money is needed to buy parts and to hire more people, military or civilian, to fix the equipment which is used for training for Afghanistan, Lt.-Gen. Leslie wrote.

The general’s business plan was written shortly after the release of the Defence Department’s 2008-2009 Report on Plans and Priorities which also raised issues regarding the impact of the Afghan war. In that report the army pointed out that “Afghanistan has consumed the resources of both our first and second lines of operation.”

At a security and defence forum meeting last year Mr. Perry argued that if the real costs of the Afghan war are not “transparent there is no way of knowing their real impact on the Canadian military’s future force structure.”