The U.S. Cost of the War in Afghanistan

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Images for the slideshow above were adapted from

With the exception of one that could not be transcribed, these are the sources used by the creators of the images:

Additional sources that take some of these elements further, such as pricing the current U.S. “surge” in Afghanistan, and the extent of the accounting mystery that this poses, can be found in the Christi Parsons and Julian E. Barnes article in the Los Angeles Times (23 November 2009): “Pricing an Afghanistan troop buildup is no simple calculation The White House estimate is twice the Pentagon’s. Some see politics at play.”

Other costs of the Afghan war, such as U.S. financed “reconstruction” efforts, are tallied and investigated by the Special Inspector General’s for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).

In “The Political Economy of the Bullet in Afghanistan,” I estimated that at a minimum the U.S. alone spends $82,500 to kill one Taleban fighter, which is the full national debt of every three Americans, or the entire yearly income of two American workers (on average). This is just for cost of the single bullet that ends the life of a Taleb, fighting to defend his land from foreign occupiers. Another estimate, published by Kabul Press, estimates a far higher figure (going beyond the single bullet of course): that it has cost the U.S., on average, about $50 million to kill each Taleban fighter. This is astounding in that it is the most conservative estimate. The author, Matthew Nasuti, who served in the U.S. Air Force, estimates that at this pace it would cost the U.S. in excess of $1.7 trillion to wipe out the Taleban. Moreover, the Pentagon equips its troops with rifles inferior to the Taleban’s. As Nasuti puts it: “The Taliban’s best ally within the United States may be the Pentagon, whose contempt for fiscal responsibility and accountability may force a premature U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan as the Americans cannot continue to fund these Pentagon excesses.” As a dry and cynical analysis might put it: imperialism can be many things, but one thing it isn’t is cost effective.

Perhaps the most glaring of the figures above is that each single U.S. soldier sent to Afghanistan this past year personally represented a net drain of $1 million from the American economy. That represents the per capita income of 21 Americans combined (source).

Whether or not the money would have been spent on job creation, if kept at home, we cannot know, nor do we know what portion of that $1 million consists of fixed or variable costs (given the accounting morass), and how many more domestic jobs would be created in non-war endeavors, compared to the jobs created that are oriented directly and indirectly to support the war. Clearly, however, some of that $1 million is never returning to the U.S., it builds nothing, and if the soldier is killed or wounded the cost is increased, in more ways than one of course.

One thought on “The U.S. Cost of the War in Afghanistan

  1. Pingback: The U.S. Cost of the War in Afghanistan (via ZERO ANTHROPOLOGY) | Rolandrjs's Blog

Comments are closed