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 through fiscal year 2020. 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 (DOD) increased by about $343 billion since FY2000, to $633 billion for FY2020.The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) budget has increased by more than $175 billion in that same time frame. Some of these costs also are attributable to the War in Iraq.

Timeline of the War in Afghanistan

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, leading the Taliban to abandon 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 (NATO) took over control of the peacekeeping mission, which at its height had 130,000 troops from 50 participating countries.

2004: On Jan. 26, Afghanistan ratified a new constitution. Nine months later, 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 on Sept. 18.

2006: A botched U.S. airstrike in January in Damadola, Pakistan, killed 18, none of them al-Qaeda. The new Afghanistan government struggled to provide basic services, including police protection. As a result, violence increased.

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 by 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. The organization then 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.

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 summer of 2012. The U.S. also held preliminary peace talks with Taliban leaders.

2012: Obama 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. 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: U.S. 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. dropped 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. broke that record again. Violence continued, with the Taliban carrying out terrorist attacks across Afghanistan. President Trump scrapped peace talks with the Taliban late in the summer. Elections were held in September, but the results were delayed.

2020: Peace negotiations resumed, and the U.S. and the Taliban signed a peace deal in February. A winner was finally declared in 2019's elections, and his rival rejected the results and declared himself the winner instead.

Funding the War Efforts

Here is 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 10,600 Troops leave
2015 $58 billion 8,930 U.S. trains Afghan troops
2016 $50 billion 9,200  
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 caring for war veterans typically peaks in the three or four decades after a conflict. This means 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.

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

On average, nearly 20 veterans commit suicide each day, according to a VA study. ​ The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America found that 62% of its members know a veteran who has died by suicide. The group considers veteran suicide to be its top issue. 

Economic Costs of the War

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. However, the economic costs have been steep. 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.

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

Over the next 40 years, these costs will add $7.9 trillion to the national 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. These economic costs are difficult to quantify, but will likely be felt for decades to come.