20 years ago, in the wake of the September 11 attacks, the US had interjected itself into Afghanistan's turbulent political landscape. On August 31, when the country finally completed the pullout of its troops, the one question that came up was: What price did US pay for the war in Afghanistan? The question assumes significance as Taliban, held at bay for nearly two decades, managed to capture large swathes of land, eventually surrounding and taking over Kabul on August 15. 20 years later, the Taliban are once again governing Afghanistan and foreign troops have left the country.
Human casualties of the war
While the Biden administration is now facing flak for its chaotic withdrawal from the country, this is also an inherited topic that began during the tenure of George W Bush. According to data from the the Costs of War Project at Brown University as well as official US records and statements, 2,461 American military members and 3,846 US contractors have been killed in Afghanistan between October 2001 and April 2021.
The list of Afghan casualties are thousands of times higher, with the report indicating that around 66,000 Afghan military and police officials had passed away, while there had been 47,245 civilian deaths. Reports indicate that more than a thousand other officials from allied nations including the NATO member states have been killed, as had hundreds of aid workers and journalists.
More recently, amid the evacuation process, 13 US service members, mostly in their 20s and born just around the time of the 9/11 attacks in 2001 returned home in caskets draped with the US flag. They were among nearly 200 casualties of the twin blasts at Kabul airport.
Cost of funding a lost war
The war also came with a staggering price tag - with the US spending more than a trillion dollars over the last 20 years. According to reports, America's total expenditure on operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan adds up to around $ 2.313 trillion. But while the exact amount may be debatable, the US did spend anywhere between 150 to 300 million dollars a day for two decades on this war. Some reports have also factored in health care, disability, burial and other costs that the US will incur.
"If you take the number of USD 1 trillion, as many say, that's still USD 150 million a day for two decades. And what have we lost as a consequence in terms of opportunities? I refused to continue in a war that was no longer in the service of the vital national interest of our people," said President Biden a day after the withdrawal was concluded.
With the Taliban loath to provide an extension, the US had destroyed much of its military equipment before withdrawal. Reportedly 27 Humvees, up to 70 MRAPs (mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles) and 73 aircrafts were wrecked by the officials. Before the final troops boarded the last flight, they had disabled the C-RAMS (Counter Rocket, Artillery and Mortar System).
Top US officials insist that these will never be used again. Not only are the Taliban believed to be lacking the technical expertise to revive or fly the aircrafts, officials also say that repair work would require expensive and hard to find parts. It must however be mentioned that in the hours after the final US flight departed, videos surfaced online showing a US-made Black Hawk helicopter flying over Afghanistan's Kandahar. It is believed to have been flown by Afghan pilots.
A week earlier, local media reports said that the Taliban had captured the US military's biometric devices compromising crucial data of its Army, along with other US military equipment. In mid-August, US National Security Advisor (NSA) Jake Sullivan had said that the Biden administration believes that a "fair amount" of the weapons that the US gave to Afghanistan are in the possession of the Taliban, and the White House doesn't expect they will be returned to the US.
While former President Donald Trump is insistent that the Taliban had gotten their hands on $83 billion of US weaponry, this is somewhat misleading. This figure is an estimate put forth in a quarterly report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction for all spending on the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund since the US invasion in 2001.
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