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Afghan War Has Claimed 241,000 Lives, Report Finds

FILE - A man reads the Quran besides his relative's grave in a cemetery on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, Jan. 14, 2021.

A study released Friday estimates the two-decade-long war in Afghanistan has killed 241,000 people, including Americans, and cost the United States $2.26 trillion to date.

The Costs of War Project, housed at Brown University’s Watson Institute and Boston University’s Pardee Center, noted in its report that the financial cost included both Afghan operations and those in neighboring Pakistan.

President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday that all U.S. troops will leave Afghanistan by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, saying “it is time to end the forever war.” The drawdown of around 3,000 remaining troops from the country, Biden said, would begin on May 1.

“The Costs of War Project also estimates that 241,000 people have died as a direct result of this war. This includes at least 71,344 civilians; 2,442 American service members; 78,314 Afghan military and police; and 84,191 opposition fighters,” the report said.

FILE - U.S. troops patrol at an Afghan National Army base in Logar province, Afghanistan, Aug. 7, 2018.
FILE - U.S. troops patrol at an Afghan National Army base in Logar province, Afghanistan, Aug. 7, 2018.

It noted that the numbers are approximations based on the reporting of several data sources.

“These horrific numbers are testament to the costs of war, first to the Afghan people, and then to the soldiers and people of the United States. Ending the war as soon as possible is the only rational and humane thing to do,” said Catherine Lutz, co-director of Costs of War and professor at Brown University.

Neta Crawford, the project’s lead researcher and professor at Boston University, described as "the tip of the iceberg” the U.S. Department of Defense spending of more than $900 billion in Afghanistan.

The rest of the money, according to the report, includes an increase of $443 billion in the Pentagon’s base budget to support the war, $296 billion to care for veterans, $530 billion to cover the interest on the money borrowed to fund the military deployments in the South Asian nation, and $59 billion in overseas contingency funds.

“The costs of the Afghanistan war include its escalation into Pakistan, millions of refugees and displaced persons, the toll in lives of combatants and non-combatants, and the need to care for America’s veterans,” Crawford noted.

Pakistan, which joined the U.S.-led military invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, conducted military operations to secure its side of the nearly 2,600-kilometer largely porous border in support of actions by international troops on the Afghan side.

Washington reimbursed Islamabad for the financial costs Pakistani operations incurred from a Coalition Support Fund set up for the purpose.

The Costs of War Project noted that the total estimated $2.26 trillion does not include funds that the U.S. government is obligated to spend on lifetime care for American veterans of the Afghan war, nor does it include future interest payments on money borrowed to fund the war.

A more comprehensive accounting is yet to be completed, the report said. It would include not just money that may or may not have been well spent, but the count of those wounded, those who lost limbs, and the psychological toll of decades of war on combatants and non-combatants and their families.

Stephanie Savell, the project’s co-director and senior research associate, replied in affirmative when asked by VOA whether their researchers had spoken to relevant U.S. administration departments while conducting the study.

“We have spoken with representatives of the administration about this, yes,” Savell said. “Our total number includes the DOD OCO budget (the figure the Pentagon uses to estimate total war costs), but also other ledger items like care for vets, interest on war borrowing, and increases to the Pentagon's base budget due to war,” she explained in a written reply.

The Costs of War Project was launched 10 years ago by a group of scholars and experts to document the “unacknowledged costs” of the post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, said Friday’s release.