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 (available on:
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Published on 27th June, 2014