The true costs of the Afghan war, America's longest and most invisible war
The costs of the War in Afghanistan are astounding and without end, with the war about to enter its 17th year.
How we got here
The War in Afghanistan began with the invasion of the country by U.S. forces on October 7th, 2001. It followed the shock of 9/11 and the decision by President George W. Bush to destroy the terrorist network al-Qaeda, headed by Osama bin Laden, which was blamed for the horrendous attack on American soil. Bin Laden was reportedly hiding in Afghanistan, protected by the Taliban, which then ruled the country.
Nearly 17 years and several presidents later, amassing the staggering costs of 2,372 American military deaths, 1,720 U.S. civilians contractor fatalities, over 20,000 troops wounded and likely trillions of dollars spent, the war is still not over.
The War in Afghanistan can be regarded as the longest war the U.S. has ever been involved in. While the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War started in 1954, American troop levels and casualties went up from the early 1960s, with the war ending in 1975.
The fight in Afghanistan, divided between Operation Enduring Freedom (2001–2014) and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel (2015–present) is still continuing to cause American casualties. The U.S. suffered 17 casualties in 2017 and four so far in 2018 (as of mid-July). 2017 also saw 10,000 civilian casualties, including those caused by U.S. airstrikes.
What's the current situation?
At its peak in 2010-2011, the U.S. presence in Afghanistan numbered over 100,000 soldiers. Under President Obama, the troop levels had gone down to 8,400 by 2016. Still, recognizing the fragility of the situation on the ground, Obama did not authorize a complete pullback of the American forces.
In August 2017, President Trump intensified the airstrikes and called for sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan in a strategy to train, assist and advise more Afghan fighters. The plan has no end date and increased the number of forces in the country from 8,400 to 14,000. It must be noted that the Taliban, now numbering about 60,000 fighters, rules over a larger amount of land now than it did since when it was kicked out by the initial U.S. war effort in 2001.
How much does the war cost?
As things stand, the Pentagon announced that in 2018, that the war in Afghanistan will cost the taxpayers $45 billion just this year alone. The amount includes about $13 billion for U.S. forces in the country, $5 billion for Afghan forces, $780 million for economic aid and the remaining $26.22 billion for logistical support. If you want to add the costs up, to arrive at some overall figure for the war, estimates range from $841 billion to trillions, depending on the number of factors counted.
“One of the striking aspects of American military power is how little serious attention is spent on examining the key elements of its total cost by war and mission, and the linkage between the use of resources and the presence of an effective strategy,” writes Cordesman in his report.
Neta Crawford, the co-director of the Cost of Wars Project at Brown University, sees the spending on the War in Afghanistan to approach $2 trillion since 2001. That doesn’t even include future costs of up to $7.9 trillion like the spending by the Department of Veteran Affairs and the interest on the money Americans borrowed to pay for this military effort. Notably, the U.S. Congress did not pass a tax to finance the war and instead passed the Bush tax cuts.
Reports by the Watson Institute also put the true costs in the trillions. The Institute estimated that $4.8 trillion was spent through 2016, while Harvard economist Lina J.Blimes puts that cost from $4 to $6 trillion.
The exorbitant costs also bear many inefficiencies and wasteful spending, reported by the government accountability agency SIGAR. The overseer found half a billion dollars squandered on planes unusable in Afghanistan, millions spent on unused command and control centers, gas stations that cost almost 90 times more than necessary, among other instances of “outrageous misuse of U.S. taxpayers’ money,” as it states in its 2018 report.
What’s next for this war that will not end? Despite the Trump-ordered troop surge, the situation on the ground has not changed much, leading some observers to think that the president is ultimately impatient to have a resolution to the war and will pull back the U.S. forces eventually. Indeed, the White House ordered direct talks with the Taliban, which currently controls from 10% to 45% of the territory, depending on whom you ask, in an effort to create a breakthrough. The Taliban appears willing to talk but no concrete plans have been announced yet.
Join Radiolab's Latif Nasser at 1pm ET on Monday as he chats with Malcolm Gladwell live on Big Think.
University of Utah research finds that men are especially well suited for fisticuffs.
- With males having more upper-body mass than women, a study looks to find the reason.
- The study is based on the assumption that men have been fighters for so long that evolution has selected those best-equipped for the task.
- If men fought other men, winners would have survived and reproduced, losers not so much.
Built for mayhem<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjY2NDIyMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMzk4NTQ2OX0.my6nML12F3fEQu3H4G0BScdqgaMZkRQHxgyj-Cmjmzk/img.jpg?width=980" id="906fc" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dd77af7a881631355ed8972437846394" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Ollyy/Shutterstock<p>The researchers are, of course, talking averages here, not stating a rule: There are plenty of accomplished female pugilists, as well as lots of males who have no idea how to throw a punch.</p><p>Even so, says co-author <a href="https://www.wofford.edu/academics/majors-and-programs/biology/faculty-and-staff" target="_blank">Jeremy Morris</a> says, "The general approach to understanding why sexual dimorphism evolves is to measure the actual differences in the muscles or the skeletons of males and females of a given species, and then look at the behaviors that might be driving those differences."</p><p>Carrier has been interested in the idea that millennia of male fighting has shaped certain structures in male bodies. Previous research has reinforced his hunch:</p> <ul> <li><a href="https://jeb.biologists.org/content/216/2/236" target="_blank">When a hand is formed into a fist, its structure is self-protective</a>.</li> <li><a href="https://unews.utah.edu/flat-footed-fighters/" target="_blank">Heels planted firmly on the ground augment upper-body power</a>.</li> <li><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24909544" target="_blank">A study examined facial bone structure as being especially well-suited for taking a punch</a>.</li> </ul> <p>(That last one is our favorite. Do you know the German word "<a href="https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Backpfeifengesicht" target="_blank">backpfeifengesicht</a>?" It's an adjective describing "a face that badly needs a punching.")</p><p>"One of the predictions that comes out of those," asserts Carrier, "is if we are specialized for punching, you might expect males to be particularly strong in the muscles that are associated with throwing a punch."</p>
Testing the theory<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjY2NDIzMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNzMxMTE2MH0.UXJICMy57UPYUWskhK98alctOrPidJL9yxMkz3HDQrM/img.jpg?width=980" id="98718" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b12287684ac3e740b70392e6433a6b8f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Ollyy/Shutterstock<p>The researchers measured the punching — and spear-throwing — force of 20 men and 19 women. The assumption was that early humans were punchers <em>and</em> spear-throwers.</p><p>Prior to testing, each participant had filled out an activity questionnaire so that "we weren't getting couch potatoes, we were getting people that were very fit and active," says Morris.</p><p>For punching, participants operated a hand crank that required movement similar to throwing a haymaker. The purpose of the hand crank was to spare participants any damage that might be inflicted on their fists by throwing actual punches. Subjects were also measured pulling a line forward over their heads to assess their strength at throwing a spear.</p><p>Even though all of the participants, male and female, were routinely fit, the average power of males was assessed as being 162% greater than females. There were no gender differences in throwing strength recorded. Other untested, though presumably likely, hand-to-hand combat activities come to mind including tackling, clubbing, running, kicking, scratching, and biting.</p><p>Carrier's takeaway: "This is a dramatic example of sexual dimorphism that's consistent with males becoming more specialized for fighting, and males fighting in a particular way, which is throwing punches."</p>
Boys will be boys<p>It, er, strikes us as odd that, even in science fiction — hi-tech weaponry notwithstanding — the hero <em>is</em> going to wind up duking it out with some bad guy, or alien, in the climactic battle. What is it about men punching, anyway? Are they more sexually attractive? The study suggests so:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><em>The results of this study add to a set of recently identified characters indicating that sexual selection on male aggressive performance has played a role in the evolution of the human musculoskeletal system and the evolution of sexual dimorphism in hominins.</em></p><p>It's tough to contribute to the gene pool after being killed in battle.</p><p>Also, while the authors aren't <em>quite</em> saying that males' historical fighting role is mandated by biology and not by social expectations, neither are they quite <em>not</em> saying it.</p><p>As Carrier explain to <a href="https://attheu.utah.edu/facultystaff/carrier-punch/" target="_blank">theU</a>: "Human nature is also characterized by avoiding violence and finding ways to be cooperative and work together, to have empathy, to care for each other, right? There are two sides to who we are as a species. If our goal is to minimize all forms of violence in the future, then understanding our tendencies and what our nature really is, is going to help."</p>
Innovators don't ignore risk; they are just better able to analyze it in uncertain situations.
The Labour Economics study suggests two potential reasons for the increase: corruption and increased capacity.
Cool hand rebuke<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQyMTIyNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NjY1NTYyOH0.0MCPKN3If94mYCNf3mMNrnTvJXjXN_bKLhgk9203EXk/img.jpg?width=917&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C0&height=453" id="1627b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6d76421ba1ea0de4b09956b97e80c384" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A chart showing prison population rates (per 100,000 people) in 2018. The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.