Some Reflections on the 10th Anniversary of the War on Afghanistan

by Allen Ruff

October 9, 2011

Supposedly winding down, the open-ended war in Afghanistan continues. These past few months witnessed the highest levels of US war casualties since the invasion began 10 years ago. Initially driven from power, a resurgent Taliban has continued to mount its resistance to the US-led invader occupation as the conflict expands into Pakistan. Iraq, in the meantime, has remained far from pacified as US military leaders openly speak of a troop presence on the ground twenty years from now.

The initial public justifications for the war are all but history. Osama bin Laden is dead and al Qaida has been decimated. But upwards of $10 billion a week – money that could be used for innumerable domestic projects — is being squandered to maintain combat forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. As the people of Afghanistan continue to suffer from what is now being viewed as the “Long War” for empire, imposed austerity and assaults on working families and the dispossessed here at home continues unabated amidst an unprecedented transfer of wealth to the top. The popular classes have been made to pay not only for the speculative failings and greed of finance capital, but for the carnage of an empire in decline determined to maintain its trump card of military might. The war profiteers, the major corporations and private contractors continue their plunder as the imperial venture in South Asia and the Middle East, expanded into place like Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia trundles on. Who pays and who profits?

Photo Credit: DVIDSHUB

The “Costs of War” project at Brown University now estimates that the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan have cost 225,000 lives and up to $4 trillion in U.S. spending. The group has released new figures for a range of human and economic costs associated with the U.S. military response to the 9/11 attacks:

  • Nearly 10 years after the declaration of the “War on Terror,” the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan have killed at least 225,000 people, including men and women in uniform, contractors, and civilians.
  • The wars will cost Americans between $3.2 and $4 trillion, including medical care and disability for current and future war veterans. If the wars continue, they are on track to require at least another $450 billion in Pentagon spending by 2020. (Figures do not include future interest on war-related debt.)
  • More than 31,000 people in uniform and military contractors have died, including the Iraqi and Afghan security forces and other military forces allied with the United States.
  • By a very conservative estimate, 137,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan by all parties to these conflicts.
  • The wars have created more than 7.8 million refugees among Iraqis, Afghans, and Pakistanis. This is numerically equivalent to all of the people of Connecticut and Kentucky fleeing their homes.
  • Pentagon bills account for half of the budgetary costs incurred and are a fraction of the full economic cost of the wars.
  • Because the war has been financed almost entirely by borrowing, $185 billion in interest has already been paid on war spending, and another $1 trillion could accrue in interest alone through 2020.
  • Federal obligations to care for past and future veterans of these wars will likely total between $600-$950 billion. This number is not included in most analyses of the costs of war and will not peak until mid-century.
  • While the number of US soldiers who have died in the wars (just over 6000) is available, what is not known know are the levels of injury and illness in those who have returned from the wars. New disability claims continue to pour into the VA, with 550,000 just through last fall. Many deaths and injuries among US contractors have not been identified.
  • The armed conflict in Pakistan, where the U.S. helps the Pakistani military fight by funding, equipping and training them, has taken as many lives as the conflict in neighboring Afghanistan.
  • The wars have been accompanied by erosions in civil liberties at home and human rights violations abroad.
  • The human and economic costs of these wars will continue for decades, some costs not peaking until mid-century. Many of the wars’ costs are invisible to Americans, buried in a variety of budgets, and so have not been counted or assessed. For example, while most people think the Pentagon war appropriations are equivalent to the wars’ budgetary costs, the true numbers are twice that, and the full economic cost of the wars much larger yet. Conservatively estimated, the war bills already paid and obligated to be paid are $3.2 trillion in constant dollars. A more reasonable estimate puts the number at nearly $4 trillion.
  • As with former US wars, the costs of paying for veterans’ care into the future will be a sizable portion of the full costs of the war.
  • While it was promised that the US invasions would bring democracy to both countries, Afghanistan and Iraq, both continue to rank low in global rankings of political freedom, with warlords continuing to hold power in Afghanistan with US support, and Iraqi communities more segregated today than before by gender and ethnicity as a result of the war.

The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere will continue indefinitely as long as the actual costs, in casualties and resources, remain largely hidden and “acceptable”. The human and material costs of US aggression, too often rationalized in terms of “national security,” “defense” or “national interest,” must be raised at every opportunity. The connections between the wars of austerity, the generalized offensive against the working class at home, and the empire’s murderous military campaigns abroad must be made a constant, integral part of our work in all sectors. The war at home and the wars abroad are one.