At just short of 20 years, the now-ending U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan was America’s longest war. Ordinary Americans tended to forget about it, and it received measurably less oversight from Congress than the Vietnam War did. But its death toll is in the many tens of thousands. And because the U.S. borrowed most of the money to pay for it, generations of Americans will be burdened by the cost of paying it off.
As the Taliban in a lightning offensive recapture much of the country before the United States’ Aug. 31 deadline for ending its combat role, and the U.S. speeds up American and Afghan evacuations, here’s a look at the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, by the numbers.
Much of the data below are from Linda Bilmes of Harvard University’s Kennedy School and from the Brown University Costs of War project. Because the United States between 2003 and 2011 fought the Afghanistan and Iraq wars simultaneously, and many American troops served tours in both wars, some figures as noted cover both post-9/11 U.S. wars.
The longest war
Percentage of U.S. population born since the 2001 attacks plotted by al-Qaida leaders who were sheltering in Afghanistan: Roughly one out of every four.
The human cost
American service members killed in Afghanistan through April: 2,448.
U.S. contractors: 3,846.
Afghan national military and police: 66,000.
Other allied service members, including from other NATO member states: 1,144.
Afghan civilians: 47,245.
Taliban and other opposition fighters: 51,191.
Aid workers: 444.
Afghanistan after nearly 20 years of US occupation
Percentage drop in infant mortality rate since U.S., Afghan and other allied forces overthrew the Taliban government, which had sought to restrict women and girls to the home: About 50.
Percentage of Afghan teenage girls able to read today: 37.
Oversight by Congress
Date Congress authorized U.S. forces to go after culprits in Sept. 11, 2001, attacks: Sept. 18, 2001.
Number of times U.S. lawmakers have voted to declare war in Afghanistan: 0.
Number of times lawmakers on Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee addressed costs of Vietnam War, during that conflict: 42
Number of times lawmakers in the same subcommittee have mentioned costs of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, through mid-summer 2021: 5.
Number of times lawmakers on Senate Finance Committee have mentioned costs of Afghanistan and Iraq wars since Sept. 11, 2001, through mid-summer 2021: 1.
Paying for a war on credit, not in cash
Amount President Harry Truman temporarily raised top tax rates to pay for the Korean War: 92 percent.
Amount President Lyndon Johnson temporarily raised top tax rates to pay for the Vietnam War: 77 percent.
Amount President George W. Bush cut tax rates for the wealthiest, rather than raise them, at the outset of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars: At least 8 percent.
Estimated amount of direct Afghanistan and Iraq war costs that the United States has debt-financed as of 2020: $2 trillion.
Estimated interest costs by 2050: Up to $6.5 trillion.
The wars end. The costs don’t.
Amount Bilmes estimates the United States has committed to pay in health care, disability, burial and other costs for roughly 4 million Afghanistan and Iraq veterans: more than $2 trillion.
Period those costs will peak: after 2048.
Story by Ellen Knickmeyer.