The cost of America's war in Afghanistan


( – In a paper published in March-2013, it has been estimated that for every soldier injured in Afghanistan and Iraq, the US government is expected to spend on average $2 million in the long term. Moreover this paper stated that the US had 866,181 officially counted injured casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq as at March 2013.

This paper has been published by Linda Bilmes at Harvard’s Kennedy School. The estimated costs include the ‘immediate requirements to provide medical care for the wounded, as well as the accrued liabilities for providing lifetime medical costs and disability compensation for those who have survived injuries’.

The paper concluded that years of conflict have left America still burdened with heavy costs, despite the withdrawal of ground troops from these theaters of conflict. This enormous cost to care for the injured means that the US military will have to make difficult trade-offs in other areas of defense despite the already shrinking defense budget.

What are the real casualties?

A number of interesting observations can be posited from the findings of the above paper. Firstly the estimate of the official injured soldiers is staggering. At almost a million injuries it makes a mockery of the US claims regarding their casualties in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

In a world rife with war propaganda, the US has been careful to conceal the true cost of their wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The Americans and NATO regularly deny casualties in their encounters with the Mujahideen. If we rely on the claims of the Pentagon and NATO then we would be led to believe that the US had no more than 25,000 – 50,000 injured casualties in both military theaters.

It should also be borne in mind that the 866,181 injured do not include the ‘private’ contractors or the injured casualties of other ISAF countries. If we factor in the casualties of the private contractors and ISAF members, the numbers could rise quite significantly.

In a Congressional Research Service report published in mid 2013, it was stated that there were approximately 108,000 private contractors in Afghanistan versus a US army presence of 65,700. This is a ratio of 1.6 private contractors for every US soldier in Afghanistan. While the ratio of contractors versus soldiers tend to fluctuate, one can only imagine the casualties of this disproportionate presence of private contractors and its implications for the US defense spending.

Granted that not all contractors are involved in the security sector but the point still stands that US casualties from the wars far exceed the official ‘military’ casualties generally admitted.

Secondly we may assume that the economic cost of this war is correlative to the number of military and non-military casualties of this war. Not only does the US have to pay the medical cost of the military casualties, they also pay compensation to the families of dead soldiers.

In addition they will need to cater to the needs of the private contractors, such as indirectly (perhaps through private insurance companies) to the dead private security contractors, the injured private contractors as well as the cost of transporting these contractors out of the war theater to other countries around the world. America and her allies usually also bear the financial burden when transferring Afghan spies and collaborators to third countries.

Some ISAF countries have already taken Afghan collaborators with them to other western countries. This includes the cost of travel for these persons and their families in addition to the costs of resettlement. These costs will need to be borne by the governments of these governments whether it be from the defense budget or the overall government budget.

A heavy price paid

From the above observations one can conclude that the US has paid a heavy financial and human price for her military adventures in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

Reminiscing on US mood in 2001 and 2003 the world was dumbfounded by US arrogance at the time. Her sense of superiority, overestimation of its own capabilities and underestimation of the rivals’ strength was evident.

Her justifications for her aggressions were as untenable and abstruse as could be. The US politicians portrayed the Muslim world as a world of barbarism and wilderness that needed to be taught respect for world powers. The US invaded two countries, destroying the lives of millions, presumably to capture a few ‘jealous and backward terrorists’ and to neutralize some ‘weapons of mass destruction’.’

America conveniently forgot that she along with a few select group of states control more than 90% of the world’s mass weaponry. If the invasion of these ‘other’ possessors of mass weaponry were justified because they were ‘irresponsible’ states then surely no nation had acted more irresponsibly and with more callous disregard for international norms as the US at the start of the new millennium.

Despite the weakness of these justifications, or perhaps because of it, it was abundantly clear that America did not act due to these reasons. The real reasons for America’s actions were driven by strategic calculations.

America entered the Muslim world in order to radically alter the geo-strategic landscape. According to the self-indulgent political scholars of Washington, America had to respond to the September 2001 attacks by bringing ‘civilization’ to the Muslim world.

America would strike such a blow to the Muslims that it would rival the Mongol invasions of Islamic land. Moreover unlike the Mongols, the Americans would not integrate into Muslim society but rather assimilate Muslims to western ‘civilization’.

Besides these grandeur schemes the invasions were also to strengthen US strategic presence in Middle East and Central Asia particularly vis-a-vis China. America would also gain more valuable bases in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. In addition US military interventions would strengthen her erstwhile ally, Israel’s position in the Middle East. And then there was of course, access to the natural resources of Middle East and Central Asia.

These were the calculations behind America’s moves. The results however were far beyond the intentions. America suffered enormous human losses in both conflicts.

The financial burden of these wars was such that American economy grinded to a halt and eventually precipitated the Global Financial Crisis.

Politically America lost all credibility as a responsible state actor. Militarily it is overstretched and in urgent need of radical concentration. It has been so exhausted by these lengthy conflicts that it no longer has any appetite for any form of confrontation. It’s passivity in the Korean peninsula, its lukewarm reaction to chemical attacks in Syria, its degradation by Israeli politicians during the Palestine-Israel peace talks, and more recently its inability to respond coherently or forcefully to the Ukrainian crisis are all examples of America’s passivity and the new limits of its powers.

While to many of us on the outside America’s new found pacifism and its aggressions of the past decade might appear unrelated, in truth the latter has had a tremendous impact on the former. The military and financial costs of these conflicts have convinced America that she needs to be more particular in choosing her fights. She has also learned that she needs to focus on her vital strategic interests such as the Pacific and Europe rather than rushing off to distant theatres and fight for another’s cause.

One can only hope that these lessons will be applied in the long term rather than as a temporary measure. America would fare far better of it relinquishes its role as a global ‘hegemon’, focuses on its vital interests, respects global diversity and the legitimate interests of divergent societies, and interacts with farther afield countries on basis of reciprocal respect and mutual benefits.

The dreams of America acting as the world’s policeman are now nothing more than a forlorn hope. It is time for America to abandon her plans of imposing her values on others and instead embrace diversity and partnership on global affairs.


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