Cost of Afghanistan War: More than $2 Trillion and 240,000 Lives

April 22nd, 2021 - by Meghann Myers / Military Times

Meghann Myers / Military Times

 (April 16, 2021) — When you add up the cost of Defense and State Department funds sunk into Operations Enduring Freedom and Resolute Support, then throw in the cost of caring for the conflicts’ veterans and the interest on the money borrowed to cover it all, you’re looking at over $2 trillion, according to a report released Friday.

The Costs of War Project detailed its most recent estimates, finding that most of the money came out of $933 billion in DoD overseas contingency funding. The rest includes: $443 billion in DoD base budget increases to support the war; $296 billion to care for veterans; $59 billion in State overseas contingency funds; and $530 to cover the interest on the money borrowed to fund 20 years of deployments.

Those funds do not, however, include the amount the United States government is obligated to spend on lifetime care for American veterans of this war, nor does it include future interest payments on money borrowed to fund the war.

“The DoD spending, at over $900 billion in Afghanistan, is the tip of the iceberg,” Neta Crawford, the project’s lead researcher, said in the release. “The costs of the Afghanistan war include its escalation into Pakistan, millions of refugees and displaced persons, the toll in lives of combatants and non-combatants, and the need to care for America’s veterans.”

President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday that the U.S. would begin drawing down its remaining 2,500 troops from Afghanistan on May 1, with a Sept. 11 deadline for full withdrawal.

The Costs of War Project also estimates that 241,000 people have died because of the war in Afghanistan, which includes more than 2,400 American service members and least 71,344 civilians; 78,314 Afghan military and police; and 84,191 opposition fighters. These figures do not include deaths caused by disease, loss of access to food, water, infrastructure, and/or other indirect consequences of the war.

More than 20,000 U.S. troops have been wounded.

The data is compiled from DoD reporting and budgeting documents starting in 2001.

“We report these estimates so that the American people will have a better understanding of the scale of the effort and its consequences,” she added. “The American people also lost some transparency here. A more comprehensive accounting is yet to be completed. It would include not just money that may or may not have been well spent, but the count of those wounded, those who lost limbs, and the tremendous psychological toll of decades of war on combatants and noncombatants and their families.”

Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.


Nicolas D. — The suggestion that only 240,000 people have been killed in Afghanistan is an obscene insult to the countless people killed. 

In August 2019, Fiona Frazer, the UN human rights chief in Afghanistan, admitted to the BBC that “more civilians are killed or injured in Afghanistan due to armed conflict than anywhere else on Earth… Although the number of recorded civilian casualties are disturbingly high, due to rigorous methods of verification, the published figures almost certainly do not reflect the true scale of harm.”

This is because most US airstrikes and night raids are conducted in remote areas where people have no contact with the UN human rights office in Kabul, while its published reports are based only on minimum deaths confirmed, as Frazer said, by “rigorous methods of verification.” 

Here’s an article I wrote in 2019, with links to that BBC report: 

David S. — I wish everyone would listen to Sandy on casualties and check the military budget on the military budget (it’s $1.25T every year) and stop listening to these “studies” that pick a fraction of war spending to label war spending.

A drop in the casualty bucket is also the teeny bit that is U.S. and NATO deaths, but you can pretty much double it to include contractors and then triple that total to include suicides.

Donald S — It’s good that news orgs, including Military Times, give some coverage to the costs of war.  I presume that Brown University’s Costs of War project uses conservative estimates and that it aims for unquestionable reliability.    They’re a useful source to link to, even if they undercount.  Their monetary estimates for the costs seem sufficiently high ($6.4 trillion).

BTW, it’s not clear how much more effect it would have to say that 2.4 million people died, versus 240,000 people.  What often has more effect is images like this one I made from Nicholas’s article:
You’d need to be made of stone not to be moved by that.  Seeing lists of numbers is less effective. Combining both facts and emotion-laden imagery is what I want to do with animations.

Nicholas D — I think what they’re aiming for is not unquestionable reliability, because that would require accuracy, but political cover. They want to be taken seriously by mainstream American journalists who are getting even lower estimates from the Pentagon press office, which only confirms civilian casualties that are literally unconcealable. That way the Cost of War figures become the go-to figures, or the maximum in a range, even for peace activists. I have to concede that it’s been a highly successful strategy.