By Stephanie Gaskell
Congress is going to send less and less cash to Afghanistan to train and equip local forces, but a top general said Wednesday he's "not concerned."
"We think the Afghan security forces are going to be in very good shape to take the lead and maintain security," said Major General Stephen Townsend, director of the Pakistan/Afghanistan Coordination Cell in the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff office testified before a panel of the House Armed Services Committee.
His reasoning: the cost of maintaining a military and police force is "significantly less" than building one since the expensive heavy equipment they've already bought is not a recurring cost. So even though the 2013 budget to train Afghan forces shrunk to $5.7 billion from $11.7 billion the year before, the work can still get done he said.
"It costs a lot more money to build a force than to sustain it," he told POLITICO after the hearing. "The operations cost will be significantly less than the cost to build that force. We're building that force to 352,000 and we're buying helicopters and trucks and guns and all that stuff. It's expensive. So the operations cost will be a lot less.
"I'm not concerned. We've resourced the effort at the level we've planned for," he said.
Townsend said that commanders will be assessing the readiness of the Afghan force every six months and correct course, if necessary.
The International Security Assistance Force will continue to equip and train 352,000 Afghan soldiers and police officers by 2017, and the budget will continue to shrink.
Not everyone at the hearing was so optimistic about the Afghan military's future.
"Our current mission is unrealistic," said Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), a Marine and Army veteran who serves on the House Armed Services Committee. "I don't see where the [Afghan] government is ever going to have the revenue to support their own military. And my fear is that it eventually falls exclusively on the backs of the U.S. taxpayers."
"I'm not trusting of the information that I get from the Department of Defense in general because I think they're in an impossible position because the war is unpopular among the American people, the war is unpopular among members of Congress and they're concerned about what limited support they have for the war would evaporate if they told us what was really going on," Coffman said.