The American Quagmire in Afghanistan by the Numbers (21,565 US Troops Dead or Wounded)

Number of US military personnel killed in Afghanistan since 2001: 2,150

Number of US service members wounded in Afghanistan badly enough to go to hospital since 2001: 19,415

Current annual cost of keeping a US soldier in Afghanistan: $2.1 million

Number of US troops now in Afghanistan: roughly 51,000

Annual average unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans 2002-2012; 10% (average annual unemployment rate for vets of previous wars: 6.3%)

Afghan civilians killed in political violence or war 2006-2012: 14,728

Amount of money US has spent to rebuild Afghanistan: $100 billion

Proportion of the $100 billion wasted or misspent or stolen or given to militants or not received by intended recipient: 85%

Population of Afghanistan: 30 – 34 million

Amount of US aid since 2001 per person: roughly $3,333

[pdf] Per capita annual income of Afghanistan: $470

Number of Taliban willing to run for elective office while there are US troops in that country: 0

Number of US and allied foreign troops killed by members of supposedly friendly Afghanistan National Army in 2012: 62 . (The number is much less this year [12], but only because joint operations were suspended for a long period).

Number of women allowed by the election commission to run for president of Afghanistan in 2014: 0

Percentage of annual Afghanistan gross domestic product from the opium trade: 25%

Percentage of the remaining 75% of the annual Afghanistan gross domestic product from foreign aid: 97%.

Posted in Afghanistan | 37 Responses | Print |

37 Responses

  1. If correct,
    that fewer than 15,000 Afghan civilians have been killed from 2006 to 2012 in what the US military has treated as a free-fire zone,
    that’s surprisingly low.

    Consider that, in about the same amount of time, 2003 to 2011, the US military caused (directly or not) about 1.5 million Iraqi deaths.

    From the Lancet 2006 study,

    “We estimate that between March 18, 2003, and June, 2006, an additional 654,965 (392,979–942,636) Iraqis have died above what would have been expected on the basis of the pre-invasion crude mortality rate as a consequence of the coalition invasion. Of these deaths, we estimate that 601,027 (426,369–793,663) were due to violence.”

    If accurate, these figures would imply the death of an average 500 people per day, or 2.5% of Iraq’s population during the period.

    Extrapolating 5 more years to 2011, when the US retreated from Iraq, I estimate 1.5 million dead Iraqis over what would have happened without the 2003 invasion, ballpark.

    15,000 dead is a horrific tragedy, but considering who was in charge, it coulda been a LOT WORSE.

    • I love that logic: If we had not committed the crime, that other guy would have done it and it would have been worse! It is that type of logic that makes us so despised.

    • Most of the dead in Iraq were killed in the civil war between Iraqi Shiites and Iraqi Sunnis/foreign jihadis. A genuine civil war, not just between armed forces but between (and targeting) actual communities broke out in Iraq.

      Whereas that is not what’s happening in Afghanistan. The fight between the Taliban/Haqqani Network on one side and the ANA/NATO on the other has taken on the characteristics of a group-vs-group civil war to a much lesser degree than in Iraq.

  2. Professor, you forgot one very important statistic, the arms manufacturers and those companies which provide services for the war machine. I think you will find their story is a huge success. These people are wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice and a they are a powerful lobby in America and other Western Countries. I very much doubt they see it as a quagmire, for them its an indication that business is doing well !

  3. In that Afghanistan was the result of war hysteria caused by 9-11, I have often wondered what action Al Gore would have taken if he had won the election instead of a man with a child like mind, GW Bush?

    I have to think Gore would had followed the same path as the Clinton administration did during the first bombing of the World Trade Center, which was to treat it as a crime rather than an act of war. Had Gore been elected Iraq and Afghanistan could have been avoided.

    • Let’s keep some history in mind: when the Northern Alliance took Kabul, there were something like 1000 American troops in the entire country. The initial conception of the Afghan War was to support the local anti-Taliban forces so the could topple the Taliban and rout al Qaeda out of its headquarters. We provided air support and limited ground assistance to that effort, and it was on the verge of wiping out the leadership of both entities at Tora Bora.

      It is very likely that Al Gore would have followed a similar policy.

      Where the big break would have come, I think, it with Iraq. Gore wouldn’t have invaded Iraq, and he wouldn’t have allowed the upcoming invasion of Iraq to distract his administration from finishing the job in Afghanistan. It was the escape from Tora Bora and the policy of we’ll-get-back-to-it-after-Iraq that turned the initial, limited action into a decade-long occupation.

  4. Gotta love the expression of “our national interest, as so woefully displayed here and in so many other places. 51,000 x 2.1 million = a giant middle finger extended by the likes of Petraeus and Clapper and even Saints Hillary and Barack, right in the faces of all the rest of us.

    But not to worry: these tapeworms and tumors are only killing those of us they don’t blast dierctly very slowly. So we won’t fail to fund them and their perversions and predations with our loyal or subservient multiple tithes and offerings, including our bodies and those of our children, before they reach their own comfortable ends… and le delugewon’ t occur, they expect, until the clock reads “apres them…”

  5. According to the late Michael Hastings, “The simple and terrifying reality, forbidden from discussion in America, was that despite spending $600 billion a year on the military, despite having the best fighting force the world had ever known, they were getting their asses kicked by illiterate peasants who made bombs out of manure and wood.” link to

    • .
      Professor Rudolph,
      I find it revealing that you think

      “… the best fighting force the world had ever known, they were getting their asses kicked by illiterate peasants who made bombs out of manure and wood.”

      Rarely did resistance fighters kick any US Army ass in Afghanistan.
      To clarify, an IED can be a powerful means to destroy individual soldiers and their equipment, but I doubt an IED has ever produced a tactical victory on the ground.

      On those rare occasions when the resistance fighters DID kick US Army ass, it was only after the combat efficiency of the units involved was sorely compromised by one of Bush’s Generals.

      The biggest danger to an American soldier in A’stan is not the Taleban, or some other indigenous resistance force –
      it’s having strategic and especially tactical decisions made by Generals who haven’t a clue how to win a war, or even how to fight a war.

      I’ve looked at the terrain of the scenes of the major defeats the US has suffered in that war.
      In EVERY SINGLE CASE I looked at, the US forces were deployed in a manner that should have been expected to result in catastrophic losses. That’s not just 20-20 hindsight; it was obvious going in, and the small unit leaders who were ordered to put their men at risk unnecessarily should have refused.
      Even if the Lieutenant on the ground only had Infantry Officer Basic Course under his belt, he never should have followed such stupid orders.
      But nowadays, even selection to Brigade Command is ALL political, and technical competence is not a factor.

      Did the Colonel whose bad judgement was responsible for Restrepo get his gonads sliced off ?
      Did he at least get branded ?
      Heck, no.
      He got promoted, lest anyone ask if maybe incompetence at the Brigade TOC was the reason men died needlessly.

      • The command structure grows out of the force structure, and vice versa, and out of the “inspirations” of all those smart people who design weapons and uniforms and transport and the whole flux of DogmaBabble.

        And, it’s not news, I think, that being able to kick ass and take names in tactical warfare (once you bribe enemy warriors to drive your trucks full of fuel and munitions to the Battlespace instead of blowing them up), kicking in doors and whupping up on dudes with funny hats and individually operated weapons gets bragging rights and unit citations and medals and weepy funerals. But it doesn’t mean that what your force structure can do is in any way lined up with any of the useful human activities that even serve the purpose of advancing Imperial dominion. Let alone pacification.

        Really beautiful hammer. Totally the wrong tool for any kind of useful work, except breaking things…

      • “He got promoted, lest anyone ask if maybe incompetence at the Brigade TOC was the reason men died needlessly.”

        The Peter Principle still applies: People rise to their level of incompetence. And sometimes beyond.

    • “getting their asses kicked” in that passage is the equivalent of “Yay, we held them to a field goal.”

      There is no standard by which the Taliban were ever winning in Afghanistan. Bizarre cheer-leading aside.

  6. Dear Professor, thank you, again, for another excellent and informative article. I often wonder if the average american were to get this information periodially, during a war, and expecially if it included the cost to each American it may make us take notice of what is going on.

  7. Thanks for this post Juan. The whole thing, particularly the annual cost of keeping a soldier in Afghanistan, is especially sickening when you consider the comparative cost of annual tuition at a four year college, the average still at under $9000 a year, not, of course, including living expenses. Still, how many kids could we send to college, how many hungry kids could we feed, with that amount of cash going . . . for what now?

    It reminds me of why I have come to loathe history and politics as a subject and discipline so much these days. The sheer waste is utterly and eternally unforgivable.

  8. And when it comes to the 2014 elections for senators and representatives to Congress most of the politicians responsible for this and other disasters will be re-elected.

  9. Professor Cole’s post drives home the futility of “nation building.” Underdeveloped countries that lack mature political, economic, and legal institutions are “built” into viable, mature nations only when a certain critical mass within the country is reached that spurs such development. That critical mass includes, but is not necessarily limited to, a standard of living that creates a reasonably-sized middle class; a respect for and trust in the rule of law; and the prospect that individuals can engage in economic pursuits of their choice. All of these act as a catalyst for a country’s population to demand greater political participation and leadership accountability.

    In spite of all the effort put into “nation building” in Afghanistan by the United States, we will leave the country in 2014 without having created a “nation.” The reason is the Afghans lack all of the elements essential to reaching that critical mass that becomes the catalyst for becoming a modern nation with a mature political, economic, and legal system on its own. No amount of money thrown at it; no amount of hectoring on human rights; no amount of building a number of girls’ schools; no amount of police trainers; and no amount of “advisors” in various Afghan Ministries are sufficient if the Afghans themselves are not fully engaged and up to snuff, as clearly they are not.

    At the risk of repeating my previous comments on the subject, I fully supported the counter-terrorism measures we employed in Afghanistan and in the FATA of Pakistan. But we could have executed those measures without the full-blown counter-insurgency and “nation building” exercise that has been so costly in lives, money, and materiel, and that predictably will no doubt go down in history (as “nation building” by outsiders always does) as a fool’s errand.

    • You forget conveniently of course that it was Saudi Arabians who flew planes into the World Trade towers and not Afghanis. I haven’t seen any talk of bombing Saudi Arabia in the past 10 years. It is much easier to bomb a country with no armed forces and no defense. However this war like the Vietnamese war is being won by those without money and high tech equipment. The US has created enough enemies by overthrowing governments, bombing, and invading countries, as well as supporting dictators that few will have sympathy for your country when the dollar is not longer the worlds fiat currency and your debts come due.

      • “You forget conveniently of course that it was Saudi Arabians who flew planes into the World Trade towers and not Afghanis. I haven’t seen any talk of bombing Saudi Arabia in the past 10 years.”

        The provenance of the terrorists who attacked the United States has nothing to do with Afghanistan and the ruling Taleban offering safe-haven and training facilities for Al-Qaeda. Saudi Arabia was not offering safe-haven to Al-Qaeda and encouraging their terrorist attacks. Afghanistan was, and that makes all the difference.

        • There were reports in non-main stream media after 9/11 that the Taliban would have been willing to turn Usama bin Laden over to US authorities if the US could provide convincing evidence of bin Laden’s involvement. The Bush administration didn’t, preferring the macho approach of going in with blazing guns.

        • Not only was the Saudi government not sheltering and supporting al Qaeda in 2001, but they were in a shooting war with them.

          As opposed to the Afghan government, which was providing them with safe haven, allowing them to train their military, and otherwise working closely with them. Did you know that Mullah Omar married off one of his daughters to Osama bin Laden? That’s something medieval types do to seal a political alliance.

          All of which seems at least as relevant as the Taliban government’s prior knowledge of a specific operation.

        • Bill has a ready answer for every critique of pretty much any part of this Imperial serial idiocy.

          Which part of that phlogiston you denominate hypostatizationalistically as “the Taliban” “knew” that “they” were ” hosting” those ” training camps?” So as to justify (yeah, you have reservations about COIN and nation building) all the crap that thanks to the way our Empire is structured was and is pretty much inevitable?

          Seems to me that the narrow pseudo-legalisms just provide convenient cover for some pretty huge horrors.

    • Counter-Terror, counter-insurgency.
      Don’t choke on all that Kool-Aid.

      The McChrystal counter-terror approach was to get intel from one tribe, who would then finger a rival tribe as “terrorists,”
      and then go kill or capture the folks that “our” Afghans didn’t like.

      The Kiernan conter-insurgency approach was based on the fantasy-based Petraeus “rewrite” of the Army Manual on the subject.
      Dale Carnegie with guns.

      The job of an Army is to kill people and break things. That includes assorted rapes and thievery.
      If you don’t want the US Army destroying a society, don’t send them in.
      If you want to rebuild a society, send in college professors instead.

      Here’s the key fact that has been kept secret for 4,000 years:
      folks don’t like foreigners coming in and taking over.

      And just so’s you know,
      we never attempted any “nation building” in Afghanistan.
      Everything we did that we called “nation building” was strictly to strengthen the Karzai appointees who filled every post in every Province.
      There were never any provincial elections for those positions, and Karzai insisted on getting some display of loyalty,
      often expressed in likenesses of Benjamin Franklin,
      before giving someone a position in a Provincial or District government.
      If they had dog catchers in Afghanistan, the PM would appoint them.

      We were trying to ensure that “our guy” had the cooperation of every podunk local official.
      Things would have looked very different if we had honestly intended to build roads, or provide electricity.

      Anyone in a position of GS-14 or above in USAID in A’stan ought to be required to account for what she or he did with all the resources they had at their disposal.
      As a religious nut, I expect that to happen, but not very soon.

      • You clearly fail to understand the difference between “counter-insurgency” and “counter-terrorism,” Brian. General McChrystal and the US Army were engaged in counter-insurgency, which is one facet of nation-building. He was not running a counter-terrorism campaign. The whole counter-insurgency effort was designed to extend the Afghan central government’s reach and authority into the provinces. That is called nation-building.

        That it has failed to produce results is my whole point. Nation-building does not succeed until the critical mass I mentioned above is reached. Afghanistan has a long way to go, and we are not going to make it happen for the Afghans. Nevertheless, we need not continue nation-building in order to take whatever counter-terrorist measures are deemed appropriate to protect the United States and its interests.

    • “Nation-building,” as defined by a Policy Colonel in the US Army:

      The United States has conducted nation-building operations since 1898 and does so in a uniquely American way. Nation-building is the intervention in the affairs of a nation-state for the purpose of changing the state’s method of government and when the United States pursues these efforts there is one goal – democratization.

      link to Interesting footnotes and bibliography too.

      The Wiki article has an interesting take, as discussed here: link to

      American Exceptionalism, The Movie: Scene 157, Take 224

      • Your US Army “policy colonel” may define “nation building” as he sees it, although it appears to me to be a pretty stilted, one-dimensional definition. Nevertheless, I stand by my position that “nation building” by outside forces, whether US or others, whether one-dimensional or multi-dimensional, inevitably fails. And the reason it fails is because the critical mass within the country’s own society is insufficient to provide the necessary catalyst for development.

  10. Thank you, Professor Cole, for this cost analysis. It would also be very illuminating to read an analysis of the projected costs of the future consequences and blowback from Afghanistan much as Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes did on the Iraq war that they estimated will eventually have a total cost of $2 to $3 TRILLION.

  11. It is very useful to have these figures so clearly displayed to show us the futility of making war to achieve peace, or to bring democracy and human rights to a country or to engage in nation-building.

    However, although even the death of a single person is regrettable and it is obscene to get engaged in a numbers game, it seems that the figure of 15,000 for the number of Afghan civilians killed is very conservative. One study published in October 2011, or more than two years ago, put the estimate of the number of civilian casualties to range from 11,400 to 34,000 by then, and that was a study that tried to report favorably about the number of casualties in that war compared to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. link to

    Other studies have put the number much higher than the above estimates. According to a report by a prominent Guardian reporter, Jonathan Steele, as many as 20,000 Afghans died in 2001 alone as the result of the initial US airstrikes and ground invasion. link to
    Of course, if one adds to those figures, the number of civilians killed by insurgent forces the total number would be much higher.

  12. You left out one.

    Number of Vets that take their own life after returning home.

    The whole list is Sad

    • Don’t forget the divorces, and the really sad instances when the vets are somehow driven to “light up” their families before they “take out” themselves… But the Big Sh_ts, who administer all this Bitter Medicine of Necessariness To Protect And Advance US Security and Interests, pretty obviously are a callous bunch, who can weep the crocodile tears at the funerals and on TV, while ripping our limbs off, hiding our carcasses in some noisome hole under a bank, and gulping down and digesting the corpse at their leisure…

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