With his December decision to send 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, President Obama made the war his own. And what a war it has become: The U.S. military marked a grim milestone in Afghanistan this year with more than 1,000 U.S. soldiers killed there since October 2001. Roadside bombings are on the rise, causing double the number of fatalities in 2009 that they did in 2008. And 2010 is on track to be even worse by that measure.
While Afghanistan has faded from the public consciousness in the wake of economic collapse and healthcare reform, this summer promises to put it back on the front pages. As the last of Obama's surge troops arrive on the ground in Afghanistan, most in the volatile south, the Pentagon has made no secret of the fact that it is planning a major offensive. The target will be Kandahar, the spiritual heartland of the Taliban, and senior U.S. military officials have already told members of Congress to brace their constituents for a tough period of fighting, with more casualties.
As troops surge, of course, so too does the cost of the war. The price tag for Afghanistan alone is more than $300 billion to date, with another $100 billion expected to be spent in 2010, according to the Obama administration's supplemental budget request. The president has promised to begin withdrawing U.S. troops by July 2011, conditions permitting. But U.S. military officials currently engaged in a brutal war against a committed network of Taliban insurgents warn that, indeed, conditions may not permit.
As the midterm elections approach, the fiscal cost of war in Afghanistan may draw the ire of a public increasingly mobilized against government spending—and of those, too, weary of the human toll of war.