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The Terrible Cost of the War in Afghanistan

Yuval Rosenberg

The war in Afghanistan is the longest armed conflict in U.S. history, and throughout the 18 years of fighting, U.S. officials have publicly said they were making progress. Yet a new investigative report by Craig Whitlock of The Washington Post based on thousands of pages of federal documents shows that many senior officials knew the reality was very different than their optimistic public pronouncements.

“The American people have constantly been lied to,” John F. Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, told The Post.

The documents, which the Post says it obtained under the Freedom of Information Act after a three-year legal battle, were created as part of a federal project studying the failures in Afghanistan and include notes of interviews with key players in the war.

“With most speaking on the assumption that their remarks would not become public, U.S. officials acknowledged that their warfighting strategies were fatally flawed and that Washington wasted enormous sums of money trying to remake Afghanistan into a modern nation,” Whitlock writes. “Several of those interviewed described explicit and sustained efforts by the U.S. government to deliberately mislead the public.”

The cost of the war: More than 775,000 troops have deployed to Afghanistan, and 2,300 died there while 20,589 were wounded, Whitlock writes, citing Defense Department data. As for the financial cost:

“Since 2001, the Defense Department, State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development have spent or appropriated between $934 billion and $978 billion, according to an inflation-adjusted estimate calculated by Neta Crawford, a political science professor and co-director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University.

“Those figures do not include money spent by other agencies such as the CIA and the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is responsible for medical care for wounded veterans.”

One unidentified official at the United States Agency for International Development told interviewers in 2016 that officials on Capitol Hill only cared about spending and the burn rate of funding they provided. “We were given money, told to spend it, and we did — without reason,” the unidentified official said. And an unidentified contractor reported being told to give out $3 million a day for projects in one Afghan district.

The New York Times’s Sarah Almukhtar and Rod Nordland offer a more detailed look at the money spent on the war, which they say totals more than $2 trillion so far — and will end up being much more over time, with little to show for it.

Here’s how the Times broke down the costs and results:

  • $1.5 trillion spent to wage war – but the Taliban controls much of the country.
  • $10 billion spent to suppress the drug trade – but Afghanistan provides about 80% of the world’s illicit opium.
  • $87 billion spent to train the Afghan army and police – but local forces still can’t support themselves.
  • $1.4 trillion to care for military veterans over the next 40 years.
  • $600 billion on interest through 2023 for the debt-financed war.

Read more at The Washington Post and The New York Times.

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