The Economic cost of the War in Afghanistan

The War in Afghanistan officially started in late 2001, following the horrific events of 9/11. The Bush Administration initially demanded that the Taliban release Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, who orchestrated the infamous attacks on American soil. However, following the Taliban’s refusal to extradite him, the US government launched the invasion of Afghanistan to oust the Taliban from power and eliminate the threat of Al Qaeda. In early 2021, President Joe Biden announced that the US would be withdrawing all troops by September 11 – the 20th anniversary of the initial terrorist attacks.

“We went to Afghanistan in 2001 to root out Al Qaeda, to prevent future terrorist attacks against the United States planned from Afghanistan.  Our objective was clear. The cause was just.”

April 2021 – President Joe Biden

Following this announcement, the Taliban gradually captured parts of Afghanistan with little resistance from the 300,000 Afghan soldiers. On the 15th of August, the Afghan government officially collapsed as the Taliban took Kabul. With this said, the economics of this conflict is clear: a catastrophic waste of money from nations on both sides of the Atlantic.

Economic costs

The United States has spent more than $2 trillion on the war in Afghanistan, in the 20 years since September 11, 2001. That’s $300 million a day – every day for the past two decades. This sum is greater than the net worths of the 30 richest billionaires today combined. The cost of the war increased between 2010 and 2012, as Barack Obama opted for increasing troop levels, with the figure growing to almost $100 billion a year. By 2018, annual expenditure had fallen to around $45 billion.

The US weren’t the only nation to deploy troops and spend money in Afghanistan, with many NATO members such as the UK and Germany joining the Americans. This question was submitted to the British parliament earlier this year, with the cost announced at £22 billion. However, many would argue that this is a conservative estimate, given that only a part of the 20-year conflict was considered in this calculation. This is because the UK officially ended all combat operations in Afghanistan in 2014, marking the end of Operation Herrick. However, a new operation followed it – codenamed Toral, which once again prompted British involvement in Afghanistan. This has led to the total estimated cost of all operations to be about £38 billion, according to former government advisor Frank Ledwidge.

Over the past two decades, Germany has spent an estimated $19 billion on the war in Afghanistan.

Outcomes

Out of the $2 trillion total cost of the war, $88 billion was spent on ‘training’ the Afghan army, amounting to $750 million annually. However, when the Afghan army of 300,000 had to fight to defend the capital from the Taliban earlier this month, they folded in a matter of weeks to the Taliban forces of a measly 75,000 men. This represents a catastrophic waste of money, as the Afghan army with over 3x the soldiers compared to the Taliban, failed to defend the country from invasion.

A large amount of this money has also been subject to waste and fraud. According to SIGAR, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the US has lost $19 billion in Afghanistan to the aforementioned. This was approximately 30% of the amount reviewed, with this money supposed to go towards infrastructure in Afghanistan.

All this money was going overseas to Afghanistan during a time of economic peril for many of the countries involved. Between 2014 and 2019, civilians living in Flint, Michigan didn’t have access to clean water – yet the US was spending hundreds of billions annually in Afghanistan. At the same time, the Conservatives in the UK were raising various taxes and cutting spending; all to fund a needless war effort in Afghanistan, sacrificing private sector jobs and economic growth in the process.

Ultimately, the war in Afghanistan represents a huge drain on public finances for all the nations involved. The Taliban managed to retake the country in a matter of weeks, rendering all the money spent on training the Afghan forces a waste. Future generations will pay for this economic calamity through higher taxes or lower public spending: most likely a combination of the two.