The chaotic aftermath of the US military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan is making international headlines and capturing the world’s attention. Lost in this conversation is the true scope and cost of the 20-year war that is finally coming to an end. But a new Ivy League report sheds light on this reality—and sums up the truly devastating human and financial costs of the War in Afghanistan.
The Watson Institute at Brown University just released an updated accounting of the public expenditure and loss of life incurred by the conflict to date. The researchers found that up to 241,000 people have died directly as a result of the war. They note that this astounding figure doesn’t even include “deaths caused by disease, loss of access to food, water, infrastructure, and/or other indirect consequences of the war.”
Per Brown, 2,442 of the lives lost in Afghanistan were US military personnel, 6 were Department of Defense civilians, and 3,846 were US contractors. Meanwhile, at least 66,000 of the deceased were members of the Afghan national military and police. Approximately 1,144 were troops from US-allied countries. A heart-breaking 47,245 civilians were killed and 72 journalism/media workers and 444 humanitarian aid workers.
The loss of life involved in this conflict is truly tremendous, and we should not lose sight of that fact while considering the disruption ensuing as it comes to an end.
So, too, the Brown researchers report that the War in Afghanistan (and the related conflict in neighboring Pakistan) has cost US taxpayers $2.313 trillion to date. That comes out to nearly $15,000 per federal taxpayer. And this $2.3+ trillion sum is almost certainly an underestimate of the full costs. As the researchers note, this figure “does not include funds that 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.”
Yet the significance of this report extends beyond the particulars of documenting the extreme cost of the War in Afghanistan. It’s another reminder that while ending wars can be messy—particularly when done haphazardly—that mess doesn’t come close to the human and financial cost of war.
As Ludwig von Mises wrote, war “is harmful, not only to the conquered but to the conqueror.”
“Society,” he continued, “has arisen out of the works of peace; the essence of society is peacemaking. Peace and not war is the father of all things. Only economic action has created the wealth around us; labor, not the profession of arms, brings happiness. Peace builds, war destroys.”
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