Afghanistan War Cost, Timeline, and Economic Impact

The Ongoing Costs of the Afghanistan War

U.S. Army soldiers walk toward Checkpoint 64 near Loy Karez, Kandahar province, Afghanistan, to meet with local leaders
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The war in Afghanistan began in 2001 and has cost the U.S. $978 billion. The George W. Bush administration launched the war in Afghanistan and the War on Terror in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda. The United States attacked the Taliban in Afghanistan for hiding al-Qaeda's leader, Osama bin Laden.

The number grows even more when taking into account increases in the base budgets for the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs. In addition to the $978 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations funds specifically dedicated to the war, the base budget for the Department of Defense has increased by about $343 billion to $633 billion for 2020, and the Department of Veterans Affairs budget has increased by more than $50 billion.  Some of these costs also are attributable to the War in Iraq.

Timeline

The war in Afghanistan began in 2001 and followed this timeline:

2001: Osama bin Laden authorized the 9/11 attacks. President Bush demanded that the Taliban deliver bin Laden or risk U.S. attack. Congress appropriated $22.9 billion in emergency funding. On Oct. 7, U.S. jets bombed Taliban forces. On Dec. 7, the Taliban abandoned Kabul, the capital. Hamid Karzai became interim administration head. Ground troops pursued bin Laden into the Afghan foothills. He escaped to Pakistan on Dec. 16, 2001.

2002: In March, the U.S. military launched Operation Anaconda against Taliban fighters. Bush promised to reconstruct Afghanistan, then turned attention to the Iraq War. 

2003: In May, the Bush Administration announced that major combat ended in Afghanistan. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization took over control of the peacekeeping mission, which at its height had 120,000 troops from 50 participating countries. 

2004: On Jan. 9, Afghanistan created a new constitution. On Oct. 9, the U.S. military protected Afghans from Taliban attacks for their first free election. On Oct. 29, bin Laden threatened another terrorist attack. 

2005: On May 23, Bush and Karzai signed an agreement allowing U.S. military access to Afghan military facilities in return for training and equipment. About 6 million voters turned out for elections for national and local councils.

2006: The new Afghanistan government struggled to provide basic services, including police protection. Violence increased. U.S. airstrike in Damadola, Pakistan, kills 18, none of them al-Qaeda.

2007: U.S, NATO and Afghan allies killed a Taliban commander, Mullah Dadullah.

2008: Violence escalated in Afghanistan after U.S. troops accidentally killed civilians.

2009: President Obama took office and approved sending 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan in April. He promised to send another 30,000 in December. He named Lt. General Stanley McChrystal as the new commander. Voters reelected Karzai amid accusations of fraud. 

2010: NATO sent surge forces to fight the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. NATO agreed to turn over all defense to Afghan forces by 2014. Obama replaced McChrystal with General David Petraeus. Afghanistan held parliamentary elections, again plagued by charges of fraud.

2011Special Forces killed Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011. Obama announced he would withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year and 23,000 by the end of 2012. The U.S. held preliminary peace talks with Taliban leaders.

2012Obama announced the withdrawal of 23,000 troops from Afghanistan in the summer, leaving 70,000 troops remaining. Both sides agreed to hasten U.S. troop withdrawal to 2013. Their presence had become unwelcome. The Taliban canceled U.S. peace talks.

2013U.S. forces shifted to a training and support role. The Taliban reignited peace negotiations with the U.S., causing Karzai to suspend his U.S. negotiations.

2014: Obama announced final U.S. troop withdrawal, with only 9,800 advisors remaining at the end of the year. 

2015Troops trained Afghan forces.

2016: The Department of Defense requested funds for training efforts in Afghanistan as well as training and equipment for Syrian opposition forces. It also included support for NATO and responses to terrorist threats.

2017: The DoD requested $58.8 billion for Operation Freedom Sentinel in Afghanistan, Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq and the Levant, and increased European support and counterterrorism.

2018: The U.S. drops more bombs and other explosives than during any other year of the war to this point, according to the Air Force. 

2019: The U.S. breaks that record again. Violence continues, with the Taliban carrying out terrorist attacks across Afghanistan. President Trump scraps peace talks. Elections are held in September, but the results are delayed.

2020: Peace negotiations resume. A winner is declared in 2019's elections, and his rival rejects the results and declares himself the winner instead. The U.S. and Taliban sign a peace deal.

A breakdown of the funding for the war in Afghanistan as part of overseas contingency operations for the Department of Defense:

FY Cost of Afghanistan War Boots on Ground Comments
2001 $23 billion 9,700 9/11. Taliban falls.
2002 $23 billion 9,700  
2003 $17 billion 13,100 NATO enters.
2004 $15 billion 18,300 1st vote.
2005 $21 billion 17,821 Karzai agreement.
2006 $19 billion 20,502 Violence rises.
2007 $31 billion 24,780  
2008 $39 billion 32,500  
2009 $56 billion 69,000 Obama surge.
2010 $94 billion 96,900 NATO surge.
2011 $107 billion 94,100 Bin Laden killed.
2012 $101 billion 65,800 Troop drawdown.
2013 $86 billion 43,300  
2014 $77 billion 32,500 Troops leave.
2015 $58 billion 9,100 U.S. trains Afghan troops.
2016 $50 billion 9,800  
2017 $54 billion not available  
2018 $52 billion not available  
2019 $52 billion* not available  

*Estimated

The Department of Defense stopped reporting the number of military troops in Afghanistan in 2017.

Cost to Veterans

The cost of veterans’ medical and disability payments over the next 40 years will be more than $1 trillion, according to Linda Bilmes, a senior lecturer in public finance at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. The cost of caring for war veterans typically peaks in the three or four decades after a conflict, she said.

Traumatic brain injury has been called the "signature injury" of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, with almost 350,000 diagnoses since 2000.

On average, 20 veterans commit suicide each day according to a VA study. ​ The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America found that 47% of its members know of someone who has attempted suicide after returning from active duty. The group considers veteran suicide to be its top issue. 

Cost to Economy

The war in Afghanistan is second only to the $4.1 trillion dollars (inflation-adjusted) spent during World War II.

Unlike earlier wars, most American families did not feel the impact of the Afghanistan War. There was no draft and no tax imposed directly to pay for the war. Researcher Ryan Edwards estimates that the U.S. incurred an extra $453 billion in interest on the debt to pay for the wars in the Middle East.

Over the next 40 years, these costs will add $7.9 trillion to the debt.

Companies, particularly small businesses, were disrupted by National Guard and Reserve call-ups. The economy also has been deprived of the productive contributions of the service members killed, wounded, or psychologically traumatized.

Article Sources

  1. Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs, Brown University. "United States Budgetary Costs and Obligations of Post-9/11Wars Through FY2020: $6.4 Trillion." Accessed Oct. 21, 2020.

  2. National Priorities Project. "U.S. Security Spending Since 9/11." Accessed Oct. 21, 2020.

  3. United States Department of Defense. "Defense Budget Overview," Page 4. Accessed Oct. 21, 2020.

  4. Congressional Research Service. "Overseas Contingency Operations Funding: Background and Status," Page 10. Accessed Oct. 21, 2020.

  5. North Atlantic Treaty Organization. "NATO and Afghanistan." Accessed Oct. 21, 2020.

  6. U.S. Department of Defense. "Defense Budget Overview," Page 1-4. Accessed Oct. 21, 2020.

  7. United States Air Forces Central Command. "Combined Forces Air Component Commander 2013-2019 Airpower Statistics." Accessed Oct. 21, 2020.

  8. Congressional Research Service. "The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11." Accessed Oct. 21, 2020.

  9. Congressional Research Service. "Department of Defense Contractor and Troop Levels in Afghanistan and Iraq: 2007-2018." Accessed Oct. 21, 2020.

  10. Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience. "Traumatic Brain Injury in Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans: New Results from a National Random Sample Study (abstract)." Accessed Oct. 21, 2020.

  11. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. "National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report," Page 5. Accessed Oct. 21, 2020.

  12. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. "Combat Suicide." Accessed Oct. 21, 2020.