Cost of Afghan War: $50 Million Per Dead Taliban
What began as a US-Saudi-Pakistani sponsored anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and led to the terrorist attacks on Sept 11, 2001, is now threatening to engulf Africa, Central Asia, Middle East and South Asia in its growing flames. And its effects are continuing to be strongly felt in America and Europe.
The victorious veterans of the 1980s Afghan resistance have successfully indoctrinated and trained several generations of battle-hardened global jihadis to take on the United States and various pro-Western governments in Islamic nations in all parts of the world. This trend is accelerating as the US steps up its attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, according a recent report in Newsweek magazine. Here is an excerpt from its report:
"The Central Asians retreated to Afghanistan and Pakistan in the late 1990s after failing to topple their home governments. Now they seem ready to try again, using guerrilla tactics and know-how they’ve picked up from the Taliban about improvised explosive devices. Small groups of Tajik and Uzbek militants began moving into Tajikistan in late winter 2009, says a Taliban subcommander in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz. In Kunduz they joined up with fighters from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a Qaeda-linked group active there and in Tajikistan. “Once these first groups made it back safely [to Tajikistan], they signaled to militants here in Kunduz and even in Pakistan’s tribal areas that the journey was possible,” the subcommander, who didn’t want to be named for security reasons, tells Newsweek."
As the war expands, it is now worth pondering over the current and future costs of what appears to be an interminable war on terror, and consider alternative approaches, including greater use of soft power.
Even if most Americans choose to assign no value to the lives of many poor Afghan and Pakistani civilians killed as "collateral", here is an analysis by a blogger at kabulpress.org of the exorbitant financial cost of the US war in Afghanistan to the American taxpayers:
The estimated cost to kill each Taliban is as high as $100 million, with a conservative estimate being $50 million.
1. Taliban Field Strength: 35,000 troops
2. Taliban Killed Per Year by Coalition forces: 2,000 (best available information)
3. Pentagon Direct Costs for Afghan War for 2010: $100 billion
4. Pentagon Indirect Costs for Afghan War for 2010: $100 billion
Using the fact that 2,000 Taliban are being killed each year and that the Pentagon spends $200 billion per year on the war in Afghanistan, one simply has to divide one number into the other. That calculation reveals that $100 million is being spent to kill each Taliban soldier. In order to be conservative, the author decided to double the number of Taliban being killed each year by U.S. and NATO forces (although the likelihood of such being true is unlikely). This reduces the cost to kill each Taliban to $50 million, which is the title of this article. The final number is outrageously high regardless of how one calculates it.
To put this information another way, using the conservative estimate of $50 million to kill each Taliban:
It costs the American taxpayers $1 billion to kill 20 Taliban
As the U.S. military estimates there to be 35,000 hard-core Taliban and assuming that no reinforcements and replacements will arrive from Pakistan and Iran:
Just killing the existing Taliban would cost $1.75 Trillion, not including the growing numbers of new Taliban recruits joining every day.
The reason for these exorbitant costs is that United States has the world’s most mechanized, computerized, weaponized and synchronized military, not to mention the most pampered (at least at Forward Operating Bases). An estimated 150,000 civilian contractors support, protect, feed and cater to the American personnel in Afghanistan, which is an astonishing number. The Americans enjoy such perks and distinctions in part because no other country is willing to pay (waste) so much money on their military.
The ponderous American war machine is a logistics nightmare and a maintenance train wreck. It is also part-myth. This author served at a senior level within the U.S. Air Force. Air Force “smart” bombs are no way near as consistently accurate as the Pentagon boasts; Army mortars remain inaccurate; even standard American field rifles are frequently outmatched by Taliban weapons, which have a longer range. The American public would pale if it actually learned the full story about the poor quality of the weapons and equipment that are being purchased with its tax dollars. 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.
The blogger argues that "if President Obama refuses to drastically reform the Pentagon’s inefficient way of making war, he may conclude that the Taliban is simply too expensive an enemy to fight. He would then have little choice but to abandon the Afghan people to the Taliban’s “Super-Soldiers.” That would be an intolerable disgrace".
Regardless of the killing efficiency of Pentagon's war machine, I do not think that the United States can win this war by military means alone. It's time for the American leadership to go beyond rhetoric and seriously implement its 80/20 strategy. The 80/ 20 rule, as outlined by General Petraeus, calls for 80% emphasis on the political/economic effort backed by 20% military component to fight the Taliban insurgency in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. This rule has led many to speculate about a US-backed "Marshall Plan" style effort to help Afghanistan and Pakistan expand the economic opportunity for their young and growing population, vulner able to exploitation by extremists.
I believe that the US has a stark choice in Afghanistan: Either spend %1.75 trillion on a losing war, or $200 billion in development funds to bring peace and honorable exit.
Just the long-neglected education and heathcare sectors can easily absorb tens of billions of dollars a year in Pakistan through government and non-government agencies.
In spite of all of the corruption and inefficiencies, the money will still be better spent on improving the lives of common people to live in peace than on war where the private defense contractors are looting the taxpayers in broad day light.
The need is great, and the funds are scarce in infrastructure projects. Massive funds are needed in clean water, sanitation, roads, bridges, power plants, schools and clinics projects to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals.
If America can get people busy doing productive work, there will be no need to kill them to try and win wars.
I highly recommend books like "Three Cups of Tea" and "Turning Stones into Schools" by Greg Mortenson to get a sense of what I am talking about.
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UN Millennium Development Goals
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Obama's New Regional Strategy
Webchat On Obama's New Regional Strategy
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Obama's New Regional Strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan
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Growing Insurgency in Swat
Afghan War and Collapse of the Soviet Union
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