A Fresh Look at the Afghan War
NEW YORK – With the Syria crisis dominating headlines, few are paying attention to America’s longest war. In fact, the war in Afghanistan has hardly been mentioned in the early months of US President Donald Trump’s administration, despite the presence of two experienced military officers – Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster – in key positions. This must change.
After 15 years of failed intervention, the situation in Afghanistan is out of control. The unity government that emerged after the contested presidential election of 2014 is dysfunctional, and security conditions are rapidly deteriorating. Meanwhile, opium production is surging, and Afghanistan now ranks second in the world in money laundering (after Iran). In Europe and elsewhere, inflows of Afghan refugees continue unabated.
The war in Afghanistan has exacted enormous costs. So far, fatalities include roughly 3,500 coalition soldiers (some 70% of which were US troops), about the same number of contractors, and some 100,000 Afghans (including security forces, opposition fighters, and civilians). Since 2002, the US has spent over $780 billion on the war – roughly equivalent to the entire US foreign-affairs budget for more than two decades. Additional non-budgetary expenditure, including disability payments and compensation to the families of fallen soldiers, will add hundreds of billions more to the war’s total cost.