Monday, May 12, 2008

 

THE HIDDEN COST OF THE AFGHAN MISSION

I greet with a healthy dose of skepticism Prime Minister Harper's "Long-Term" vision statement for the military made in Halifax.

Announcements of the nature of the "Canada First Defence Policy" haven't yet made me a believer. In fact not even since I was old enough to start observing politics and politicians. That is as far back as the Louis St.Laurent post war administration of the 1950's.

Surely Mr. Harper has good intentions. He means well proposing to spend about $30 billion to give Canada's military the "troop numbers and equipment to do its job." Come-on! Thirty billion dollars over 20 years ($1.5 B per year) accounts just about for the cost of inflation during the period.

The announcement sours further by news accounts elsewhere that the replacement program for the ageing Buffalo Search and Rescue aircraft is now shelved until 2017 or 2020. The Buffalo aircraft and some Hercules planes also used for Search and Rescue operations were bought in 1967. When it was estimated at $1.3 billion in September 2003, the then Chief Of Defence Staff, General Ray Henault, declared their replacement the military's "top priority". The new planes were to be delivered in 2006.

Last fall when the replacement cost mushroomed to $3 billion the need to fast-track the program was such that the government proposed to award the deal to an Italian firm for their C-27J aircraft described as the "only viable bidder." In January the opposition Liberals were outraged the Conservatives would skip the bid process. Well now it's back on the shelf. It seems that with our military "funding "boogie" there is a new partner and new dance everyday. But it's the same old tune that keeps playing.

Which brings me to my point: The mission to Afghanistan to which we are now committed until February 2011 is draining our resources and pocketbooks. The estimated cost is several million dollars per day above normal military operations. The hidden costs are also enormous and those will keep taxpayers footing the bill for decades.

Blame advanced medical techniques. Because in addition to the mournful mounting number of Canada's Afghan war dead which inches ever closer to one hundred; troops are coming home with devastating injuries that might have killed them in earlier wars. Damaged bodies, damaged minds. An ever larger pool of disabled veterans despite the decline in the number of Vets as soldiers from World War II and Korea die.

In the United States research published by the Associated Press claims their cost of caring for veterans will grow from $29 billion this year to more than $59 billion by 2030. The research shows for instance that in the relatively quiet 6 year period before the United States invaded Afghanistan and subsequently Iraq the number of disabled vets had flatlined. Since 9/11 it has grown over 25% to just over 3-million permanently disabled requiring an ever increasing level of care.

Canada's government is far less open about providing accurate numbers of soldiers too injured; physically, mentally or emotionally by Afghanistan ever to resume a normal life here back home. We owe those young men and women a debt of gratitude, and we will pay for their care until the end. That's the hidden cost of our increasingly questionable commitment to clean-up the mess of Afghanistan.

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