Friday, April 4, 2014

The Enduring Costs of Operation Enduring Freedom

The Presidential election in Afghanistan is another step in the nation's decades-long rebuilding process.  Taxpayers in several key nations, mainly the United States, who supplied the original troops and materiel in the ongoing battle against the Taliban and terrorism have seen costs mount to a stunning level as the years since 2001 have passed.

According to the National Priorities Project, every hour, American taxpayers are paying $10.17 million for the cost of "Operation Enduring Freedom" in Afghanistan with the total spent now in excess of $707.6 billion.  Here is a graph showing the total spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan between fiscal 2002 and fiscal 2012 according to a 2013 analysis by the for Strategic and International Studies:

Obviously, it's not just the spending on the military that is so costly for American taxpayers.  Here is a graphic showing U.S. spending on reconstruction in Afghanistan over the same timeframe:

There are human costs to Operation Enduring Freedom as well.  Since hostilities began in 2001, there have been 2312 American military deaths in Afghanistan as shown on this chart from the Department of Defense:

In addition, there have been 19,694 soldiers wounded in action in operations related to Operation Enduring Freedom.

According to a March 2013 study by Linda J. Bilmes at the Harvard Kennedy School, the total cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will reach between $4 trillion and $6 trillion when long-term medical care of veterans and their families is included.  It is expected that the peak costs for these expenses could occur as long as 50 years down the road if prior post-war veteran experiences are assumed.  Since approximately 2.5 million service men and women have served in both theatres, the costs are expected to rise from $134.3 billion in 2013 to $836.1 billion for future medical care and disability benefits as shown on this chart:

Here are the costs borne by taxpayers in two other nations that participated in the  Afghan hostilities: 

The Cost to the United Kingdom:

In addition, the war in Afghanistan has cost the United Kingdom at least £37 billion pounds including military costs of £31.1 billion, veterans' costs of £3.8 billion and civilian development costs of £2.1 billion.  Between October 7, 2001 and February 28, 2014, the following United Kingdom military and civilian casualties took place in Afghanistan:

In addition, there have been 2173 civilians and military personnel wounded in action over the same time period.

The Cost to Canada:

It is extremely difficult to get accurate and up-to-date estimates of the cost of Canada's mission to Afghanistan, however, the Canadian government provided an incremental cost (i.e. spending above and beyond normal spending on the Armed Forces) for the period between 2001 to 2011 of $11.3 billion, excluding the cost of veterans' care after 2011.  Canada also lost 158 soldiers in the battle along with one diplomat, one journalist and two civilian contractors.  Approximately 5515 Canadians who have served in Afghanistan are currently being assisted by Veterans' Affairs Canada.

As shown on this chart, a total of 3429 coalition military fatalities have occurred in Afghanistan since 2001 with the peak year being in 2010 when 711 soldiers were killed, 58 percent of them by improvised explosive devices (IEDs):

The cost to Afghani civilians has also been very high.  According to The United Nations Annual Report on Afghanistan for 2013, deaths and injuries among Afghani civilians has been very high for many years as shown on this graph:

Since 2009, IEDs have been responsible for the deaths of 4515 civilians and an additional 7989 have been injured in 3716 separate IED attacks.  A study by Brown University estimates that a total of between 18,000 and 20,000 Afghani civilians have died as a result of the conflict since 2001.

Let's close with a graph that shows the top contributors to Afghanistan's Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) as of the end of 2013 (note that SY stands for Solar Year where SY 1381 is the period between March 21, 2002 and March 20, 2003):

From 2002 to February 2014, the World Bank reports that 33 donor nations had pledged more than $7.809 billion to reconstruction projects in Afghanistan with $6.941 billion being paid in.  In 2013 alone, the United States contributed $300 million or 33 percent of the annual ARTF total of $903.72 million.  Projects undertaken include everything from highway construction to irrigation to restoring operations at universities and schools.

The cost of the War on Terror has far exceeded the original estimates provided to American taxpayers by the Bush II Administration.  One has to question whether there will be any long-term and lasting benefit to Afghanistan and Afghanis for the trillions of dollars "invested" and whether the world will really be a safer place for all of the sacrifices made.


  1. Many Americans have recently tried to block Afghanistan out of their thoughts, going forward little exist to be excited or optimist about. As with Vietnam it seems that we may have to settle with claims of "peace with honor" as we rush for the exit. This reminds me of the experience the French had in Algeria. After years of effort the French did not achieve victory, they only proved how difficult and expensive some of these missions can become. The announcement by President Obama that American troops would be departing leaves many people wondering about the void we will be leaving and how it will be filled. More on this subject in the article below.

  2. "One has to question whether there will be any long-term and lasting benefit to Afghanistan and Afghanis for the trillions of dollars "invested" and whether the world will really be a safer place for all of the sacrifices made."

    I guess the same can be said for all wars. Would Continental Europeans have fared better under the Kaiser? Would Continental Europe have fared better under Hitler? Stalin?

    Just as important, was the US loss in lives and treasure worth it in the long run? And doesn't running to the rescue of Europe and East Asian countries whenever China and/or Russia rattle their sabers just promote military dependency?

    We can no longer afford to be the world's policeman. Encourage the EU and Japan and Taiwan to beef up their military capacity, and let them suffer the consequences if they don't.

  3. @Anonymous 12:12 I'm with you the US cannot continue to be everyone else’s military force. I think Japan is beefing up its military, but a lot of other countries need to step up. One thing that the Obama presidency has shown to the world is what is like if the US backs away even just a little bit. My hope is the next president continues backing out the US from involvement and being everyone's defense for the ills of the world. Europe and Asia, and Israel need to start spending their money on their militaries.

  4. And then there is the possibility, if you do not swallow absolutely every word the media tells you about these wars, there is the possibility that the "ills of the world" are actually a direct result of our chauvinist and predatory military-industrial complex.