AfghanistanCalculating the Costs of the Afghanistan War in Lives, Dollars and Years

By Neta Crawford

Published 2 September 2021

The war in Afghanistan, like many other wars before it, began with optimistic assessments of a quick victory and the promise to rebuild at war’s end. President George W. Bush warned of a lengthy campaign, but few thought that would mean decades. Twenty years later, the U.S is still counting the costs: the U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan lasted 7,262 days; 980,000 U.S. soldiers have served in Afghanistan; 2,455 U.S. service members were killed; 20,722 members of the U.S. military wounded in action; 46,000 civilians killed by all sides; the U.S. has spent $2.3 trillion so far; experts estimate that the future costs of medical and disability care for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars between now and 2050 will likely be  about $2 trillion.

The U.S. invaded Afghanistan in late 2001 to destroy al-Qaida, remove the Taliban from power and remake the nation. On Aug. 30, 2021, the U.S. completed a pullout of troops from Afghanistan, providing an uncertain punctuation mark to two decades of conflict.

For the past 11 years I have closely followed the post-9/11 conflicts for the Costs of War Project, an initiative that brings together more than 50 scholars, physicians and legal and human rights experts to provide an account of the human, economic, budgetary and political costs and consequences of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Of course, by themselves figures can never give a complete picture of what happened and what it means, but they can help put this war in perspective.

The 20 numbers highlighted below, some drawn from figures released on Sept. 1, 2021, by the Costs of War Project, help tell the story of the Afghanistan War.

From 2001 to 2021
On Sept. 18, 2001, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 420-1 and the Senate 98-0 to authorize the United States to go to war, not just in Afghanistan, but in an open-ended commitment against “those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States.” U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee of California cast the only vote opposed to the war.

In other words, the U.S. Congress took 7 days after the 9/11 attacks to deliberate on and authorize the war.

At 7,262 days from the first attack on Afghanistan to the final troop pullout, Afghanistan is said to be the U.S.‘s longest war. But it isn’t – the U.S. has not officially ended the Korean War. And U.S. operations in Vietnam, which began in the mid-1950s and included the declared war from 1965-1975, also rival Afghanistan in longevity.

U.S. President George W. Bush told members of Congress in a joint session on Sept. 20, 2001 that the war would be global, overt, covert and could last a very long time.

“Our war on terror begins with al-Qaida, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated. … Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen,” he said.

The U.S. started bombing Afghanistan a few weeks later. The Taliban surrendered in Kandahar on Dec. 9, 2001. The U.S. began to fight them again in earnest in March 2002. In April 2002, President Bush promised to help bring “true peace” to Afghanistan: