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Counting the costs of the United States’ 20-year war in Afghanistan

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – America’s longest war, the two-decade conflict in Afghanistan that began in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, has killed tens of thousands, four presidents sued Americans and ultimately proved impossible to win despite its enormous cost in blood and treasures.

This latest chapter, along with President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan before the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, has prompted accountability for the lives lost and the colossal expenditures of the war.

Here’s a look at the growing cost of the American campaign – the bloodshed, the waste of funds, and the future consequences for the war-torn nation on the brink of chaos.


The Afghans paid the highest price. Since 2001, at least 47,245 civilians have been killed in the war in mid-April, according to Brown University’s Costs of War project, which documents the hidden costs of wars after 9/11.

Bomb and gun attacks targeting civilians have reached new heights since the opening of intra-Afghan peace talks in Qatar last fall, according to UN Watchdogs which claims the conflict has killed a total of 72 journalists and 444 aid workers.

The Afghan government is keeping its soldiers’ record a secret to avoid undermining morale, but Costs of War estimates that the war has killed between 66,000 and 69,000 Afghan soldiers.

The war has forced 2.7 million Afghans to flee abroad, mainly to Iran, Pakistan and Europe, the UN said. Another four million are internally displaced, 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 more than 3,800 US private security contractors have been killed. The Pentagon does not follow their dead.

The conflict also killed 1,144 members of the 40-nation NATO coalition that has trained Afghan forces over the years, according to a tally maintained by the iCasualties website. The remaining 7,000 Allied troops will also withdraw by Biden’s 9/11 deadline.


The United States has spent a staggering total of $ 2.26 trillion on a dizzying array of spending, according to the Costs of War Project.

The Defense Department’s latest 2020 report said the costs of the war amounted to $ 815.7 billion over the years. This covers the costs of operating the US military in Afghanistan, from fuel and food to Humvees, weapons and ammunition, tanks and armored vehicles to aircraft carriers and air strikes.

Although America initially invaded to retaliate against Al-Qaida and rout its hosts, the Taliban, the United States and NATO quickly shifted to a more open mission: nation-building in large scale.

Washington has invested more than $ 143 billion in this goal since 2002, according to the latest figures from the Special Inspector General for the Reconstruction of Afghanistan (SIGAR).

Of this amount, $ 88 billion was spent on training, equipping and financing the Afghan military and police forces. Another $ 36 billion was spent on reconstruction projects, education and infrastructure like dams and highways, according to the SIGAR report. An additional $ 4.1 billion has been spent on humanitarian assistance for refugees and disasters. The campaign to dissuade Afghans from selling heroin around the world has cost more than $ 9 billion.

Unlike other conflicts in American history, the United States borrowed heavily to finance the war in Afghanistan and paid some $ 530 billion in interest. He also paid $ 296 billion in medical and other care for veterans, according to Costs of War. He will continue to pay these two expenses for years to come.


Much of the billions spent on huge infrastructure projects has been wasted, the US inspector general has found. Canals, dams and highways fell into disrepair as Afghanistan failed to absorb the flow of aid. Newly built hospitals and schools were empty. Without proper oversight, American money spawned the corruption that undermined the legitimacy of the government.

Despite the costly anti-narcotics campaign, opium exports have reached record levels. Despite the billions of weapons and training of Afghan security forces, the Taliban have increased the area of ​​land they control. Despite huge expenses for job creation and welfare, unemployment hovers around 25%. The poverty rate has fluctuated over the years, reaching 47% through 2020, according to the World Bank, down from 36% when the fund started calculating in 2007.

“We’ve invested too much with too little to show it,” said Michael Wahid Hanna, senior researcher at the Washington-based Century Foundation.


While few wish to prolong the war indefinitely, many fear that its final end could jeopardize Afghanistan’s modest gains in health, education and women’s rights, made in the early years as states -United developed the economy and overthrew the Taliban, which had imposed severe restrictions on women.

Since 2001, life expectancy has increased from 56 years to 64 years, according to the World Bank. Maternal mortality has more than halved. Educational opportunities have mushroomed, with the literacy rate increasing from 8% to around 43%. Life in cities has improved, with 89% of residents having access to drinking water, compared to 16% before the war.

Child marriage fell by 17%, according to UN data. Girls’ enrollment in primary school has almost doubled, and more women have entered university and sat in parliament. These numbers are still pale by global standards.

But more broadly, the failure of US ambitions to build a stable and democratic Afghanistan has left the country mired in uncertainty as US forces depart. The nation’s history tells of the civil war that followed invasions and foreign withdrawals.

“For better or worse, the United States has a serious stabilizing presence right now, and once that subsides, there will be a power vacuum,” said Michael Callen, an Afghan economics expert at the London School of Economics. “In the 20 Years War, there will be a lot of scores to settle.”

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