Afghanistan

We Will Keep Spending Trillions on the Afghanistan War Long After the Last Soldier Leaves

The final price tag could eventually exceed $6 trillion, and American taxpayers will be paying the tab when the 50th anniversary of 9/11 arrives.

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We may finally be nearing the end of America's long military misadventure in Afghanistan—but we are a long way from being done paying for it.

The post-9/11 wars begun by President George W. Bush and carried on by three subsequent administrations were largely financed by adding the cost to America's national debt. That means that the official cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq—about $2.26 trillion, though the Pentagon's accounting is famously fuzzy—doesn't tell the whole story.

"The costs of these wars continue long after we withdraw, since they are debt-financed and we will be paying interest on that debt for years—even decades—to come," Heidi Peltier, project director for the Costs of War Project at Boston University, tells Reason.

Peltier's research shows that the interest costs of the post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had already topped $1 trillion. By the end of the current decade, interest on the war debt will likely exceed the final official tally of the wars' cost. And the final price tag for those operations could eventually exceed $6 trillion—with American taxpayers still paying the tab when the 50th anniversary of 9/11 arrives.

Of course, the fiscal costs are only part of the whole story. An accurate accounting of the war in Afghanistan must take into account the roughly 2,400 American service members, 3,800 American contractors, 66,000 Afghan security forces, 47,000 Afghan civilians, and others (including journalists and aid workers) who were killed. In all, the Costs of War Project estimates that at least 238,000 people died as a result of the war in Afghanistan.

There will also be ongoing costs to cover the medical treatment for the four million veterans of the two post-9/11 wars, many of whom are injured or disabled. Those obligations will eventually total $2 trillion, according to an estimate from Linda Bilmes, a researcher at Harvard University's Kennedy School and a longtime critic of the official estimates of the wars' cost.

"Uncle Sam has spent more keeping the Taliban at bay than the net worths of Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and the 30 richest billionaires in America, combined," notes Forbes' Christopher Helman and Hank Tucker.

Never before has America faced the prospect of paying off a decades-long debt-financed war. In her 2020 paper, Peltier points out that previous American wars have been primarily financed with tax hikes and war bonds—
a form of debt, but one that Americans voluntarily bought into, rather than having forced upon them. About half the cost of World War II was covered by regular tax revenue, and nearly the full cost of the Korean War was as well.

But rather than raising taxes or shifting budget priorities to pay for the post-9/11 wars, Congress has done the exact opposite. Taxes have been cut, twice, since the war in Afghanistan began, and government spending on non-war items has skyrocketed. The national debt totaled $5.8 trillion in 2001. Now, it exceeds $28 trillion.

Interest costs on the debt—at least some of which are attributable to the 20 years of "credit card war"—is the fastest-growing portion of the federal budget, and it won't slow down anytime soon. By 2050, the cost to service national debt will be the single largest line item in the federal budget.

The federal government might assume that it has an endless supply of borrowed money to spend. That's probably not true—but even if it is, every dollar that must be spent over the next three decades to pay off a failed war from the past is a dollar that can't be used for some other purpose.

"By paying for these wars through debt rather than increased taxes, the costs get pushed to future generations of taxpayers—either through increased future taxes or from cuts to other types of federal spending," Peltier tells Reason. "Interest costs will increasingly crowd out opportunities to spend federal dollars on other programs and even ultimately on the military itself."

The war in Afghanistan is (hopefully) over. But the bills are only starting to come due.

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  1. The veterans can suck a dick. We have Afghan refugees to take care of first and foremost …

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    2. It would appear we have outsourced the handling of the refugees issue to the Taliban.

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    3. You have obviously never served in anything, not even the cub scouts.

    4. Well the former were stupid or sadistic enough to go kill poor peasants that never threatened us. What did the latter do wrong?

    5. What a dumb comment. Thanks for wasting everyone’s time with this nonsense logical fallacy.

  2. Why not say hundreds of trillions if you want to make up a story about the future?

    Dramatic stories about the future: no sale.

    1. Soooo…Is it paid for in rainbows, unicorn farts, pixie dust, good looks, and love?

    2. Disagree. This is actually a decent return to the more core economic freedom form for Reason a la the bailout. Zero fucks give with regard to whether we import an Afghan translator or subsidize a veteran’s sex change operation except that the money comes out of my pocket.

      1. except that the money comes out of my pocket

        Sorry, the money comes out of my parents’ pocket, my pocket, my children’s pocket, their children’s pocket, and, likely, their children’s children’s pockets.

  3. Hardly the only money borrowed in the past twenty years, and it looks to not be the last.
    Looks a lot like the 70s to me.

    1. “Imagine a platform disco shoe stomping a human face…forever!”

  4. “ Uncle Sam has spent more keeping the Taliban at bay than the net worths of Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and the 30 richest billionaires in America, combined,” notes Forbes’ Christopher Helman and Hank Tucker.”

    This is part of why “tax the rich” to fund spending is stupid. Taxing the rich is a drip in the bucket compared to the funds you could save by not spending money like idiots.

    1. Take everything every billionaire in the US owns, and you barely cover this years infrastructure bill.

      1. Hey, Brandyshit! Happy you got droolin’ Joe instead of mean tweets, asshole?

  5. “… three decades?”
    I am thinking that is rather optimistic. The last I heard, we are still paying for WW1.

  6. “The war in Afghanistan is (hopefully) over.”

    Tell that to the 10,000 or so Americans and the 50,000 – 100,000 Afghan allies (who face beatings, imprisonment and execution) who are still trapped there.

    US forces may have secured the airport in Kabul, but the Taliban control all access routes to the airport.

    1. Biden seems to screw up everything, which is why left wing Democrats love him so much.

      1. It’s no longer a war (really hasn’t been a war for well over a year.)

        It’s now a hostage crisis. Not that anyone in the media wants you to recognize that fact.

    2. Did the Afghans greet us with flowers? Or was it the Iraqis?

      1. What does this have to do with his comment?

      2. turd lies. It’s what turd does.
        turd is a pathological liar entirely too stupid to understand that the rest of us know this.
        turd lies, period.

    3. And to think we could have had all our troops, equipment, and Afghan allies out in an orderly fashion months ago instead of keeping them there, sending thousands more troops, and then getting humiliatingly kicked out by a bunch of goat fuckers wearing towels on their heads.

      1. I blame the people who put that expensive shit in there more than I do the person who is leaving it.

        1. So you blame the Biden regime for putting thousands more troops in Afghanistan?

          1. He definitely does NOT carry water for Team D

          2. Do you mean in 2021 or 2009?

          3. Now do GWB, moron.

            1. Anybody here defending Bush? Anywhere?

            2. “Now do GWB, moron.”

              Now, try to keep up lying commie shit.

        2. turd lies. It’s what turd does.
          turd is a pathological liar entirely too stupid to understand that the rest of us know this.
          turd lies, period. He has no acquaintance with truth or reality. turd lies.

      2. A country calling itself the GOAT needs to watch out for goatfuckers.

    4. “US forces may have secured the airport in Kabul…”

      They haven’t secured shit, if by “secured” you mean that they can keep that asset operating in the face of opposing will by the enemy. The Taliban can close Karzai in about five minutes with IDF, and the US can do fuck and all about it, without leveling a good chunk of the city near the airport. Cf, Bagram Air Field, which, if rumors are true, the 82nd nearly did a combat drop on the other day, to retake it.

      The airport is open because the Taliban wish it to be so. For now, and only so long as an Obama-load of dollars on pallets go to various Taliban (and ISI, and PRC) leaders’ accounts.

      1. And if I was the Taliban, as soon as the last flight left Kabul, I would get on social media and brag about all the cash the Americans had to pay to leave safely.

        1. As long as they say nothing about masking for COVID, they’ll be able to do so.

        2. Ghani was bragging about the 170M in currency he fled to Dubai with. Even had to leave some of it behind, because it wouldn’t fit in the helo.

          Our tax money, taken by force via the IRS, to give to thieves. D.C. can’t disappear into a big enough ball of fire.

      2. “with IDF”

        Yep, drop a couple heavy mortar rounds in the middle of the runway and that thing is closed.

    5. fuck the afghan allies they were traitors during wartime and should be shot. if US soldiers helped the enemy during war they would be shot

      1. You first, asshole.

  7. So let me get this straight: to stop the funding of terrorists, my bank spies on me for the government, which will confiscate any deposits it considers “structured” to avoid surveillance, all in the name of fighting terrorism…

    …and they just dropped off billions of military hardware to the Taliban?

    Isn’t that a big no-no?

    1. What are you bitching about?

      The Bushpigs gave us come color codes so we could easily assess the terror threat.

      Be grateful for that.

      1. I’m bitching about the true concerns of libertarians, in contrast to the partisan hacks that flourish at this sight since ever I began my noble quest of commenting here, for the last several decades, blah blah blah….

        1. Me too.

          I was being sarcastic.

          The foundation for all our issues was set during the Bush the Lesser years. And now that we see what a failure our government has been we still can’t agree on how to unwind it.

          1. >>what a failure our government has been

            everybody *in* government: “Situation Normal. look over there.”

          2. turd lies. If turd posts it, it’s a lie.
            turd is a pathological liar entirely too stupid to understand that the rest of us know this.
            turd lies, period. He has no acquaintance with truth or reality. turd lies.

        2. “Partisan hacks?” Pray tell, of whom do you speak? 🙂

          1. Damn. That was in response to BRIAN. Geesh.

        3. Don’t fret… you’re doing a perfectly good job of massaging Dear Leader’s buttcrack. You libertarians know your role.

          1. Commie shit is doing a good job of dragging strawmen around. If commie shit had to argue with facts, well, Joe Stalin, commie shit.

    2. Almost as if it wasn’t about fighting terrorism, or keeping you safe at all…

      1. Ya think?

    3. Yep, and U.S. Citizens at airports are forced to expose themselves via X-Ray and sonograms so that we can give the victory to Islamofacists who force women to veil in circus tents from nose to toes.

      Contradictions-‘A’-Poppin!’

    1. “The far-left Crooks and Liars website said Todd “used the most odious right-wing meme to attack President Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan.””

      “It was never going to be pretty, unfortunately,” John Amato wrote. “But the Beltway media has an obsession for US dominance and when the pictures don’t look good — they pounce.””

      Reality is an odious Right Wing meme

      I am unable to even on the quote from Mr Amato

      1. Chuck Todd’s pounce!

        1. Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer both liked to pounce.

    1. Too bad they couldn’t invoke the 25th for ‘Jim Eagle’ and ‘horse-faced pony soldiers’ rather than 10K American hostages. But maybe “How much worse could Kamala be?” is the point.

      1. Completely whacked out of my skull on loony drugs: Imagine if Democrats collectively said, “You know what? We’ve done some terrible shit, hurt a lot of people, and, as a whole, severely fucked up a number of American traditions, policies, and cultural axioms.” and resigned from their positions.

        I might actually have to vote for some of those Democrats.

  8. >>The post-9/11 wars begun by President George W. Bush

    warmonger Biden was up front beating the drums for (D). Barbara Lee was the only correct Representative.

    1. ^

  9. But it’ll be spent humbly, amiright?

  10. It’s not fair to say the war spending is 100% debt financed. Like all federal general spending, it’s partly paid with taxes, and partly with debt. I don’t know the exact numbers, but it’s maybe 60% taxes and 40% debt.

    The article’s analysis supposes you can divide federal spending into line items that are “paid by taxes” and line items that are “debt financed” but that’s not how it works.

  11. Will there be any defense budget cuts now that we are gone from Afghanistan?

    Budget cuts! Hah! What was I thinking! Must be this bad ass shit I’m smoking. No fucking way will there be any budget cuts. We didn’t get one after we “won” Vietnam, or after we “won” the Cold War. We’re certainly not going to get one now. If there’s one thing Republicans and Democrats can agree on it’s no budget cuts.

    1. Hey, Brandyshit! Happy now? No more mean tweets to upset adolescent shits like you!
      Good times, right, asshole?

      1. Trump and Pompeo have said they would attacked the Taliban for accepting those provincial capitals which would have put us right back in Afghanistan.

        Trump sabotaged an already precarious situation. We are so lucky that mfer lost. We’d possibly be back at war if Trump had won.

        1. “…Trump sabotaged an already precarious situation. We are so lucky that mfer lost. We’d possibly be back at war if Trump had won…”

          Gee, over on Roundup, I predicted you and other steaming piles of lefty shit would push this line of bullshit a bit later in the day.
          Hint:
          You.
          (And who ever invented that story).
          Are.
          Full.
          Of.
          Shit.
          Droolin’ Joe owns droolin’ Joe’s FUBAR, 100%

        2. LOL

          One of Trumps biggest achievements is still that he exposed hypicritical partisans in ways that even the most apolitical of us can see it now

          Hypocritical partisan hacks like you who ignore the fact that Trump didnt start a stupid war in 4 years and Biden is already on it, full steam, after less than 1 year.

    2. Will there be any defense budget cuts now that we are gone from Afghanistan?

      By budget cuts, do you mean reductions in the budget, reductions in the rate at which the budget increases, or reductions in the rate of reduction at which the budget increases?

  12. Biden did save money in the defense budget by not hiring any planners for the exit from Afghanistan.

    1. Actually they paid $5,000,000 to a connected contractor who took the cash and bailed, leaving behind a note that said “Good luck!”

  13. What’s this I see — The lowest “war” cost was during Presidents Trumps administration????

  14. It is pretty hard to look at the numbers and think of the opposition to spending money to help Americans. We spend trillions on wars and quibble on infrastructure, healthcare, and education. The action in Afghanistan start as defense and that can be justified. At some point it morphed to nation building and that was wrong. The only nation we really need to build is our own.

  15. Addressing Biden’s claim that they could not have done anything differently Megan McArdle said

    “If we take the administration’s word that every bit of the chaos in Afghanistan was inevitable and expected, their political mismanagement is near-criminal. How do you plan to go on vacation while Kabul is collapsing? How do you give answers like this?”

    When you’ve lost Peter Suderweigel’s better half you know you are in trouble. I suspect Reason will do their level best to henceforth ignore the matter entirely.

    1. No one expected the Afghan govt to collapse in this way. The VIce President of Afghanistan who is closest to situation and has the most to lose didn’t even anticipate it. If those people in Afghanistan were taken by surprise how do you expect people further removed from the situation to see it coming?

      Try to be honest, follow the evidence and use your brain.

      1. Holy fuck why couldn’t it have been you stuck on the ground in Kabul?

        Maybe you missed the part where Trump negotiated a peaceful withdrawal and Biden completely disregarded it. Then, having missed the part where Biden disregarded it, you missed the part where he pushed the date up and, self-evidently, not because it was running so far ahead of schedule.

        The fact that you retards assumed the consequences would be a Taliban ticklefight is your fault. The fact that you retards assumed Joe “9/11, no wait, 8/31” Biden was effecting a reasonable and orderly withdrawal is your fault. It’s a shame you inflicted it on people who had much less choice in the matter.

      2. Don’t argue with me Jacob, take it up with your colleague’s wife.

        Even she sees through your gaslighting bullshit.

        1. Of course, you are too deranged to understand the difference between “no shoes, no shirt, no service” and “reveal to me your private medical information” so my expectations of you may be a tad bit unrealistic.

      3. “No one expected the Afghan govt to collapse in this way…”

        The lord of shit is stupid enough to:
        1) assume he knows what anyone expected
        or
        2) assume we are stupid enough to buy that pile of shit
        All to excuse droolin’ Joe’s stupidity.
        Stuff it up your ass, you pathetic piece of lefty shit.

  16. Hey it’s just like 2002-2003 around here. A bunch of former and/or current members of the military that want the taxpayer to foot the Bill for their extended business trip to Iraq and Afghanistan. Fuck that, slaver.

    1. Commie shit? Fuck off and die, after you pay your mortgage.
      Oh, and take your bullshit with you.

  17. Thank god Biden finally had the guts to get us out of this mess, despite the predictable partisan whining. Someone had to do it and was always going to be a mess. We spent 20 years and trillions of dollars and every year we couldn’t define our goals. endless mission-creep from the military industrial folks.

    1. Three cheers for political leaders who actually end wars and don’t start them.

      1. He didn’t end the war. He sent in more troops.

        1. Yeah, for a month. Team fucking Red would be clamoring for his head if he didn’t provide protection for Americans trying to leave Afghanistan.

          1. So we’re agree that he didn’t end the war.

          2. “Yeah, for a month. Team fucking Red would be clamoring for his head if he didn’t provide protection for Americans trying to leave Afghanistan.”

            Anyone not a lying piece of commie shit would be embarrassed by that, but not you.
            Yes he added troops and now that he’s fucked up the withdrawal royally, he’s going to have to add more to save the lives of thousands of US citizens. And this at the demand of nearly everybody, you lying pile of shit.

    2. He didn’t have the guts to. When he was given a deadline, he pushed it back. When it was suggested his delivery date was foolishly late, he moved it up. Slightly. When he got kicked out, he sent more troops back in. Rather unequivocally perpetuating and debatably restarting a war who’s original deadline for ending was months ago.

      1. Give me a break pal.

        At least Biden owned the decision despite whiners like you who want to quibble about which month we should have left. Seriously?!

        1. “At least Biden owned the decision despite whiners like you who want to quibble about which month we should have left.”

          Stuff your lies up your ass; your head is asking for company.
          No, he didn’t “own” anything; he tried blaming as many others as he could.
          And ‘quibbling’ about tearing up and agreement isn’t ‘quibbling’, you steaming pile of shit.

    3. “Thank god Biden finally had the guts to get us out of this mess, despite the predictable partisan whining.”

      Sorry to see such despicable pieces of partisan shit excusing droolin’ Joe’s colossal fuck up

  18. Wow… an American political leader who is actually willing to let things go and get American troops out of an actual country. Make me down as transitioning from “resigned acceptance” to “cautiously optimistic”

    1. Let’s put you down as lying piece of lefty shit.
      Excusing droolin’ Joe’s FUBAR is exactly what’s expected of you.

    2. And defend his decision on live TV. Joe Biden has his faults but making the tough choice on Afghanistan and owning his decision on live tv while the whiners want to say we should have stayed.. that was the right the to do by the President.

      1. “…Joe Biden has his faults but making the tough choice on Afghanistan and owning his decision on live tv while the whiners want to say we should have stayed…”

        Why is is that lying pieces of lefty shit lie so transparently? Are they that fucking stupid to hope that no one notices.
        Lie #1: No. you pathetic piece of lefty shit, no one is saying we should stay.
        Lie #2: Trying to blame anyone, ANYONE, else for his colossal fuck up is not “owning” anything.
        Do you have the intelligence to be embarrassed?

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