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Monday, April 26, 2021

New Report Exposes Astounding Costs of the Afghanistan War

Brown University finds that the true human and economic costs of continuing this conflict are astounding—and growing.

Image Credit: Brown University

This article is excerpted from the FEE Daily, a daily email newsletter where FEE Policy Correspondent Brad Polumbo brings you news and analysis on the top free-market economics and policy stories. Click here to sign up.

President Biden has announced his intention to complete the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan by September, a move that would end a 20-year-and-counting conflict. 

War in Afghanistan was never meant to be a multigenerational undertaking,” Biden said. “We were attacked. We went to war with clear goals. We achieved those objectives. Bin Laden is dead and al Qaeda is degraded in Afghanistan and it’s time to end the forever war.”

“It is time for American troops to come home,” the president concluded. 

 Hawkish critics have blasted Biden, calling the move “premature” and warning that ending US military occupation of Afghanistan could potentially have grave consequences if a hypothetical terrorist threat emerges in our absence. But a new report reveals that the true costs of continuing this conflict are astounding and growing.  

The Brown University Costs of War Project just released an analysis showing that the Afghanistan War has now cost the US at least $2.261 trillion, roughly $16,000 per federal taxpayer. (The breakdown of this spending is shown in the graphic below.) But the report notes that these costs are if anything an underestimate because the figures don’t include the money we are obligated to pay in future healthcare costs for Afghanistan veterans nor future interest payments on the money we borrowed to finance the conflict.

Image Credit: Brown University

Moreover, Brown reports on the human toll the conflict has taken. 

The analysis estimates that 241,000 people have lost their lives in the Afghanistan War, including 2,442 US military service members, nearly 4,000 US contractors, and more than 71,000 civilians. And, once again, these figures are likely underestimates, because they don’t include indirect deaths due to hunger, disease, water shortages, and more that stem from damage done during the war.

This new report is just another reminder that the full scope of the war in Afghanistan’s human and economic costs is beyond the mind’s ability to grasp. Anyone arguing we should perpetuate the war forever must grapple with the extraordinary toll our involvement has taken.

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