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New Afghan war plans could cost US taxpayers an extra $125 billion

At the NATO summit, President Obama's push to soften troop withdrawal deadlines could bring remaining war costs to $413 billion, according to one independent analyst.

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In this Sept. 29 photo, a girl walks past a US Marine, as he patrols through a field in Marjah, southern Afghanistan. As leaders at the NATO summit in Lisbon meet this weekend to discuss strategy in Afghanistan, President Obama pushes to soften troop withdrawal deadlines.

Todd Pitman/AP/File

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As leaders at the NATO summit in Lisbon meet this weekend to discuss strategy in Afghanistan, US war planners have been signaling that troop withdrawals set to begin in 2011 will be mostly symbolic and that the handover to Afghan forces in 2014 is “aspirational.”

Such could cost American taxpayers handsomely at a time when deficit cutting has gripped Washington. According to one estimate, softening those deadlines could add at least $125 billion in war spending – not including long-term costs like debt servicing and health care for veterans.

“I don’t think anyone is seriously talking about cutting war funding as a way of handling the deficit,” says Todd Harrison, a defense funding expert at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. But higher war costs “could hurt the base defense budget [and] the rest of the discretionary budget.”

A shift in US deadlines

Currently there are some 100,000 US troops in Afghanistan, which includes the 30,000 troop surge announced by President Obama in December 2009. At that time, the president also said the US would “begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011.”

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