Afghanistan War Cost, Timeline, and Economic Impact
The Ongoing Costs of the Afghanistan War
The war in Afghanistan began in 2001 and has cost the U.S. $975 billion, including estimates for 2019. 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. 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-Qaida. The United States attacked the Taliban in Afghanistan for hiding al-Qaida's leader, Osama bin Laden.
In addition to the $975 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations funds specifically dedicated to the war, the base budget for the Department of Defense has increased by about $250 billion, 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.
The war in Afghanistan began in 2001 and followed this timeline, according to the New York Times:
- 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. That same month, 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, but provided only $38 billion between 2001 and 2009. Bush 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. NATO added 65,000 troops from 42 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. Afghans voted for national and local councils. Of the 6 million voters, 3 million were women.
- 2006: The new Afghanistan government struggled to provide basic services, including police protection. Violence increased. The U.S. criticized NATO for not providing more soldiers.
- 2007: Allies assassinated a Taliban commander, Mullah Dadullah.
- 2008: Violence escalated in Afghanistan after U.S. troops accidentally killed civilians.
- 2009: President Obama took office and sent 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. Obama's strategy focused on attacking resurgent Taliban and al-Qaida forces on the Pakistan border. That added $59.5 billion to Bush's FY 2009 budget. He promised to withdraw all troops by 2011. Voters reelected Karzai amidst 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 amidst charges of fraud.
- 2011: Special 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.
- 2012: Obama announced the withdrawal of another 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.
- 2013: U.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.
- 2015: Troops 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, according to the Air Force.
A breakdown of the funding for the war in Afghanistan as part of overseas contingency operations for the Department of Defense, according to Brown University research:
|FY||Cost of Afghanistan War||Boots on Ground||Comments|
|2001||$23 billion||9,700||9/11. Taliban falls.|
|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.|
|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.|
|2014||$77 billion||32,500||Troops leave.|
|2015||$58 billion||9,100||U.S. trains Afghan troops.|
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.
More than 320,000 soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq have traumatic brain injuries that cause disorientation and confusion, as of 2018. Of those, more than 8,000 suffered severe or invasive brain injuries, and more than 1,600 soldiers lost all or part of a limb. More than 138,000 have post-traumatic stress disorder. They experience flashbacks, hypervigilance, and difficulty sleeping.
On average, 20 veterans commit suicide each day according to a 2016 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 impacted by the Afghanistan War. There was no draft and no tax imposed directly to pay for the war. Future generations also will pay for the addition to the debt. 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.