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Money Meant for the Afghan Military Is Paying for Trump's Border Wall

The Department of Defense has reallocated over $600 million from the Afghan National Security Forces to build the wall, following Trump's national emergency declaration.
Afghan Army soldiers march to a briefing at Camp Shorabak in Afghanistan's Helmand province.

Afghan Army soldiers march to a briefing at Camp Shorabak in Afghanistan's Helmand province.

On May 10th, the acting Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan approved a plan to transfer $1.5 billion from various Department of Defense (DOD) programs to fund the border wall, following President Donald Trump's February declaration of a national emergency to redirect spending for the project. Shanahan reportedly told Congress that the funding is being sourced from a "variety" of programs within the Department of Defense.

DOD programs losing funding include a chemical demilitarization program, Air Force missile programs, and the "Blended Retirement System," a program introduced in 2018 that combines the traditional military pension with the government's Thrift Savings Plan. The largest contributor of redirected funding will be the Afghan military: $604 million in DOD funding will be reallocated from the Afghan National Security Forces to the wall.

A 2018 report from Global Security Review estimates that the Afghan National Security Forces require $4.5 billion a year to operate. Much of this funding comes from the Department of Defense and international coalition allies.

According to an excerpt of the DOD budget posted on Twitter by Washington Post reporter Dan Lamothe, the Afghan National Army will lose almost half of the $604 million, while the Afghan National Police, the Afghan Air Force, and the Afghan Special Security Forces will each lose around $100,000 each. Afghan forces rely almost entirely on DOD funding to supply, train, and pay Afghan soldiers and police fighting against the Taliban. The budget excerpt and DOD statement do not clarify what specific programs or aspects of the Afghan military are losing funding.

United States officials stationed in Afghanistan report the loss of funding will not affect ground operations. Colonel David Butler, the official spokesperson for U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, gave a statement to Afghan media, saying, "this cost savings does not reduce the effectiveness or the readiness of the Afghan security forces." He added that the U.S. remains "completely committed to our partners in the Afghan security forces."

The acting Afghan minster of interior, Massoud Andarabi, also told reporters that the funding loss will not significantly impact the security situation in Afghanistan.

The state of the Afghan National Army has been difficult to determine for years, as figures about casualty numbers, personnel, and equipment are rarely released. In January, President Ashraf Ghani revealed that at least 45,000 Afghan soldiers had been killed since 2014. Earlier this month Operation Resolute Support, the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, announced it would no longer give reports on the amount of territory controlled by the government or the Taliban, leaving the current state of the longest war in U.S. history largely unknown.

The funding cut comes weeks after a delegation of Afghans were barred from joining the ongoing peace talks in Qatar between U.S. representatives and the Taliban, and days after a recent Reuters report that half of the staff for the American Embassy in Kabul will be reassigned outside of the country by 2020.

Currently, federal courts are considering a pair of cases—one filed by 20 states, the other by the American Civil Liberties Union—seeking to prevent Trump from spending any DOD or Department of the Treasury funding on the border wall. According to the Associated Press, the Department of Defense has so far transferred $2.5 billion to the border wall from DOD projects, and the acting secretary of defense is considering moving an additional $3.6 billion to the border wall project.