Revealed: £12bn hidden costs of Afghan war

Author: By Brian Brady and Jonathan Owen

The £12bn directly funded by taxpayers is swollen still further by millions
poured into rebuilding Afghanistan every year by British charities and other
non-governmental organisations. As the Ministry of Defence announced
yesterday that another British soldier had been killed in Helmand province,
there was no sign of an end to the spiralling human and financial costs of
the campaign.

The Government has signalled its determination to step up its financial
support for the UN-led operation, despite British forces enduring their
bloodiest month since the start of the campaign. Former British commanders
yesterday warned that the effort may have to continue for years more ? but
questioned the commitment of politicians to see the job through in the
longer term.

By the middle of 2010, the Ministry of Defence will have spent more than £9bn
on “Operation Herrick”, the multinational Afghan campaign sparked
by al-Qa’ida’s 9/11 attacks. MoD outlay on fighting the war has risen from
£221m in 2001-02 to an estimated £3.49bn this year. The 2009-10 figure will
be almost £1bn more than last year and nearly five times the £738m dedicated
to Herrick in 2006-07.

The bill has been inflated by a series of costs, including more than £700m for
urgent equipment orders, a £2,300 “operational bonus” for
thousands of troops ? and even more generous allowances for civil servants
seconded to the country. In a memo to the defence committee, the MoD blamed “additional
security costs required for the local elections, and the costs of around 200
personnel providing counter improvised explosive device (IED) expertise”.

Although the MoD’s estimates cover spending on logistics such as wages,
equipment and transportation, they do not disclose the “hidden”
costs of war, such as support for injured troops, veterans and the families
of personnel killed in action. Defence experts estimate that up to half the
cost of new benefits payments and welfare provision every year will be
directly attributable to the campaign in Afghanistan.

One indication of the financial impact of the conflict is the steep increase
in claims to the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme (AFCS), which covers
injury, illness and death caused by service since 6 April 2005. The value of
lump-sum settlements of claims settled under the scheme has risen from
£1.27m in its first year of operation to £30.2m last year. But the awards
also come with ongoing “guaranteed income payments” costing more
than £100m.

MoD figures show that at least 218 soldiers have suffered “life-changing
injuries” since April 2006 alone ? and more than 50 personnel have
undergone amputations following injuries. The latest MoD analysis shows
that, of 53 personnel who were seriously injured in Afghanistan in 2006 and
2007, 41 made claims to the AFCS. Only one of the 23 personnel very
seriously injured (VSI) in Afghanistan during 2007 failed to make a
compensation claim. The MoD has reported 214 casualties, including VSIs,
during Operation Herrick since 2001.

During 2006-08, 34 UK personnel attended field hospital for psychiatric
reasons, and 414 were assessed as having a psychological disorder on their
return to Britain.

The casualties contribute to an MoD benefits bill which shows spending of more
than £1bn a year on war pensions to veterans or their families. The bereaved
partner of a member of the armed forces killed in action is entitled to a
pension averaging £100 a week.

An MoD source said yesterday that the department feared the Afghan campaign
was adding at least £250m a year to their spending on welfare services. But
there is no evidence that the knock-on effects of Operation Herrick are
going to subside any time soon.

MoD chiefs are also paying out to cover deaths and injury to civilians in
Afghanistan. Independent estimates put the toll of Afghan civilians killed
in the conflict as high as 30,000, and activists warn that the “collateral
damage” of coalition activity is sapping local support.

The MoD is not the only department that is spending taxpayers’ money in
Afghanistan, however. The Department for International Development (DfID)
has recently unveiled an ambitious plan that will push its total spending in
the country to £969m between 2001 and 2012. The Foreign Office (FCO) has
spent £230m on the Afghan campaign since 2006 alone, more than a third of it
on an operation entitled “Strategic Programme Funds: counter-narcotics”.
In the six years after the Taliban were ousted, production of the opium
which produced 90 per cent of the heroin on Britain’s streets rose by 150
per cent.

The Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, will tomorrow make a keynote speech
designed to reinforce the case for the UK staying the course in Afghanistan.
Colonel Bob Stewart, former commander of British forces in the Balkans, said
the Government had been “confused” about what it wanted to achieve
in the area. He said: “The Government needs to have a crystal-clear aim
to neutralise Afghanistan so it can’t do us any harm either directly or
implicitly. We’ve got to stay the course in Afghanistan.”

Major General Patrick Cordingley, who commanded the 7th Armoured Brigade, the
Desert Rats, said the original objectives ? ridding Afghanistan of the
Taliban and al-Qa’ida and reconstructing the country ? had “gone
out the window”. He added: “There’s no shame in saying we need a
rest.”

General Sir Hugh Beach, former deputy commander of British Land Forces,
warned, “The British Army has done magnificently, but it’s a long slog.
You don’t do it probably in two years or three ? it might take five years or
10. Will we have the political will to stay there that long? I very much
doubt it.”

Afghan conflict in numbers

£12bn

Overall cost of Afghan campaign since 2001. Could have paid for 60,000
teachers, 77,000 nurses or 23 hospitals

400%

Increase in MoD spending on Afghanistan, 2006/07 to 2009/10

30,000

Estimate of the number of Afghan civilians killed as a result of the conflict

189

UK service personnel killed in Afghanistan since 2001. The latest death was
confirmed yesterday

150%

Increase in Afghan opium production, 2001-07

£100

Average weekly war pension entitlement of widow/widower

4m

Bullets fired by UK forces in Helmand, Aug 2006-Sept 2007

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