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Last night, President Trump was expected to announce that he would be sending several thousand more troops to Afghanistan, where the United States has been at war for 16 years and violence and corruption have become a way of life. Instead, he outlined a vague strategy meant to appease both a public weary of endless war and the military generals who are now among his top advisors.
In his address to the nation from Fort Myer, Trump did not say how many more troops he would send to Afghanistan, or how much more money he is willing to spend on the war. He only said that restrictions on wartime spending would be lifted, and that military commanders would have the freedom to launch attacks without waiting for approval from Washington.
Trump also refused to give a timetable for withdrawing American forces, saying only that the enemy would not be privy to when and where the US would attack. He said the “nation-building” effort in Afghanistan is over, and the US would no longer seek to forge democracies in foreign lands “in our own image.”
Trump did mention that the Taliban could have a place in a functioning Afghan democracy, a sign that the White House might now be willing to negotiate with anti-government forces after years of bloody warfare, but it’s not clear what such negotiations would look like.
The president’s announcement was a disappointment for those who hoped Trump would deescalate the wars in the Middle East that he criticized as a candidate — and for the millions of Americans who opposed invading Iraq and Afghanistan in the first place. Trump’s speech also raises serious concerns about transparency and accountability as the president hands over the reins of war to military commanders, who have long used endless conflicts in the Middle East to ensure a steady stream of funding into their budgets.
Matthew Hoh, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy who resigned from his US State Department post in Afghanistan in 2009 in protest of President Obama’s troop surge, said the US remains in Afghanistan so the military can continue asking Congress for multi-billion dollar budgets while funneling cash to powerful private contractors.
“There’s no real grand design or purpose other than the forward momentum of the military industrial complex,” Hoh told Truthout.
However, Hoh said that much of the military establishment is fed up with the long process of “nation building,” and so is coalescing around Trump’s calls for “principled realism” and “strategically applied force” — in other words, a strategy in which those on the fringes of the empire are simply punished when they create headaches for US leaders.
“And the way to do that is just bomb them or send in the commandos when they get out of line and punish them,” Hoh said. “If a village acts up, then burn the village to the ground.”
Meanwhile, civilian casualties reached an all-time high in 2016 as Taliban fighters and other rebels fought bloody battles with US-trained Afghan security forces, according to the United Nations. Insurgents are currently making major gains, and the high rates of civilian casualties have remained steady as the Taliban deploys homemade bombs and teams with ISIS fighters to launch attacks on members of pro-government militias in their home villages.
It’s impossible to put a price tag on the countless lives that have been destroyed by the war in Afghanistan and other US wars and occupations in the Middle East, especially when we consider consequences such as the rise of ISIS. However, it’s important to get some sense of the toll the war is taken, in order to make decisions about its future. Trump’s “strategy” comes with plenty of assurances but no hard numbers, so Truthout has compiled the latest available data to bring you a snapshot of what military operations in Afghanistan cost the nation, its allies and Afghan communities:
• About 104,000 people have been killed as a result of armed conflict in Afghanistan since 2001. More than 31,000 were civilians, according to the Costs of War project at Brown University.
• Since President Obama approved a troop surge in 2009, the war in Afghanistan has claimed at least 26,512 civilian lives and injured nearly 48,931 more, according to a July United Nations report. At least 5,243 civilians have been killed or injured in 2017 alone, including higher numbers of woman and children than previous in years.
• There are currently an estimated 8,400 US troops stationed in Afghanistan, according to reports. Trump did not say how many more troops he would send to fight in the war, but reports indicate that he approved sending 4,000 additional troops, bringing the total number to 12,400.
• The Department of Defense reports that there have been 2,394 US military casualties as a result of the war in Afghanistan, including 44 casualties since military operations officially “ended” back in 2014.
• As of 2015, US drone strikes in Northern Pakistan killed between 2,000 and 3,800 people, according to international estimates. About 22,100 Pakistani civilians have been killed and another 40,000 wounded since the US ramped up support for counter-insurgency programs in the country. Violence in Pakistan has created about 1.4 million refugees.
• Congress has committed more than $800 billion directly to the war in Afghanistan since it began in 2001, but when associate costs such as the price tag of medical services for wounded veterans are factored in, that number easily tops $1 trillion.
• $1 trillion is also the combined amount of money researchers estimate the US government will need spend on treating wounded veterans from military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Pakistan by 2053, according to a 2016 Brown University study.
• The study also found that, when the war budgets for the Department of Defense, the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security are combined with the estimated cost of caring for veterans, the total price tag for US operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria since 2001 comes out to nearly $4.8 trillion.
• By 2014, the US had incurred $453 billion in interest on money borrowed to pay for the wars. Unless Congress changes the way the US pays for war, interest costs will add $7.9 trillion to the national debt by 2053, an amount that dwarfs the original costs of the all the wars combined, according to the Brown University team.
• About $110 billion has been allocated to humanitarian relief and reconstruction in Afghanistan since 2001, including at least $4.8 billion for “counter-narcotics” operations. A 2015 report found that the formal Afghan private sector only accounts for 10 to 12 percent of the nation’s economy, with much of the rest coming from international and US aid or the black market.
• As of 2015, 58 percent of the $13.3 billion in USAID funds spent on reconstruction in Afghanistan went to only 10 contractors, and federal auditors have long complained of delays and cost overruns.
• Critics say these claims of improvements brought about by US reconstruction efforts have been exposed as downright lies: For example, earlier this year the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction found that the number of Afghan pupils studying in US-funded schools is 70 percent lower than officials reported.
• The federal government currently spends about 54 percent of its discretionary budget on defense, which is more money than any other country spends on its military by a long shot. If Congress were to accept President Trump’s budget proposal, that percentage would increase to 63 percent in 2017 and 68 percent in 2018.
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