DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – America’s longest war, the two-decade-long conflict in Afghanistan that began in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, killed tens of thousands of people, persecuted four US presidents and ultimately proved invincible despite its staggering costs in blood and tax.
This final chapter, with President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan before the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, has prompted an inventory of the war’s lost lives and colossal expenses.
Here’s a look at the rising costs of America’s campaign – the bloodshed, wasted funds and future consequences for the war – torn nation tipping into the brink of chaos.
THE COSTS IN LIFE
Afghans have paid the highest price. Since 2001, at least 47,245 civilians have been killed in the mid-April war, according to the Costs of War project at Brown University, which documents the hidden costs of the post-9/11 wars.
Weapons and bombings targeting civilians have risen to unprecedented heights since the intra-Afghan peace talks opened in Qatar last autumn, according to the UN Watchdogs, saying the conflict has killed a total of 72 journalists and 444 aid workers.
The Afghan government keeps the charge secret among its soldiers to avoid undermining morale, but the Costs of War estimates that the war has killed 66,000 to 69,000 Afghan troops.
The war has forced 2.7 million Afghans to flee abroad, mostly to Iran, Pakistan and Europe, the UN said. A further 4 million are displaced within the country, which has a total population of 36 million.
Meanwhile, 2,442 U.S. soldiers have been killed and 20,666 wounded in the war since 2001, according to the Department of Defense. It is estimated that over 3,800 US private security firms have been killed. The Pentagon is not tracking their deaths.
The conflict has also killed 1,144 members of the NATO coalition of 40 nations that trained Afghan forces over the years, according to a survey conducted by the iCasualties website. The remaining 7,000 Allied troops will also withdraw before Biden’s 9/11 deadline.
THE COST IN DOLLARS
The United States has spent a total of $ 2.26 trillion on a staggering range of spending, according to the Costs of War project.
The Department of Defense’s most recent 2020 report said the cost of fighting the war amounted to $ 815.7 billion over the years. It covers the running costs of the U.S. military in Afghanistan, ranging from fuel and food to Humvees, weapons and ammunition, from tanks and armored vehicles to aircraft carriers and air strikes.
Although the United States first invaded to retaliate against al-Qaeda and overthrow its hosts, the Taliban, the United States, and NATO soon turned to a more open mission: nation-building on a massive scale.
Washington has poured over $ 143 billion into this target since 2002, according to the latest figures from the Special Inspector General of Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).
Of this, $ 88 billion went to training, equipping and financing Afghan military and police forces. An additional $ 36 billion was spent on reconstruction projects, education and infrastructure such as dams and highways, the SIGAR report said. A further $ 4.1 billion has gone to humanitarian aid for refugees and disasters. The campaign to deter Afghans from selling heroin around the world cost over $ 9 billion.
Unlike other conflicts in American history, the United States borrowed heavily to finance the war in Afghanistan and has paid about $ 530 billion in interest. It has also paid $ 296 billion in medical and other care to veterans, according to Costs of War. It will continue to pay both of these expenses for years to come.
THE FOLLOWING MONEY
A large portion of the billions spent on huge infrastructure projects was wasted, the U.S. Inspector General discovered. Canals, dams and highways fell into disrepair as Afghanistan failed to absorb the flood of aid. Newly built hospitals and schools stood empty. Without proper oversight, US money spawned corruption that undermined government legitimacy.
Despite the costly anti-drug campaign, opium exports reached record highs. Despite billions in weapons and training for Afghan security forces, the Taliban increased the amount of territory they control. Despite high spending on job creation and welfare, unemployment is fluctuating around 25%. The poverty rate has fluctuated over the years, reaching 47% by 2020, according to the World Bank, compared to 36% when the fund first started calculating in 2007.
“We invested too much with too little to show for it,” said Michael Wahid Hanna, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Century Foundation.
Although few want to prolong the war indefinitely, many fear that its final end could jeopardize Afghanistan’s modest progress in health, education and women’s rights, which was achieved in the early years when the United States expanded its economy and overthrew the Taliban, which had imposed women harsh restrictions. .
Since 2001, life expectancy has risen to 64 years from 56, says the World Bank. Maternal mortality is more than halved. The opportunities for education have grown and literacy has increased 8% to around 43%. Urban life has improved and 89% of the population has access to clean water compared to 16% before the war.
Child marriages have fallen by 17% according to UN data. Girls’ enrollment in primary school has almost doubled, and more women have entered college and served in parliament. These figures still pale in comparison to global standards.
But more generally, the United States’ ambitions to build a stable, democratic Afghanistan have failed, leaving the country bound in insecurity as U.S. forces travel. The history of the nation tells of civil war that follows foreign invasions and retreats.
“For better or worse, the United States has a serious stabilizing presence right now, and once it’s gone, a power vacuum will emerge,” said Michael Callen, an Afghanistan economics expert at the London School of Economics. “In 20 years of war, there will be a whole lot of parties to be settled.”