Keith Boyea's Blog

Notes & Commentary on National Security, Current Affairs and Bourbon

In Afghanistan, Object to Lives, Not Money

Thesis: The best objection to the war in Afghanistan is the human cost of the war.

After nearly ten years of war in Afghanistan, Congress has apparently just now concluded that the war in Afghanistan is expensive–too expensive to perpetuate in a period of high budget deficits and high national debt.  For sure, the war in Afghanistan is expensive.  According to the White House, each soldier deployed to Afghanistan costs the United States 1 million dollars a year.  But objecting to the war in Afghanistan based on its cost misses the point.  The most important objection to the war is the lives lost in pursing it.

The US has approximately 100,000 soldiers in Afghanistan.  Based on the White House’s own estimate, this costs the US $100 billion dollars a year.  However, the United States is a very rich country able to easily pay for such wars if necessary.  According to the IRS, 144 million tax returns were filed in 2009.  If the US wanted to pay for the Afghan war as it goes, it would cost each person filing a tax return about $30 a paycheck, without considering other sources of income such as corporate income taxes or excise taxes.   I don’t mean to demean the value of $30–the cost to the poor and working class could be greatly offset by making the tax highly progressive.

My point is that the war is affordable.  The US is the richest country on the planet.  That is why the best objection to the war is the cost in human life and humanity.

The human cost of war in Afghanistan is staggering.  According to icasualties.org,  1,569 U.S. service members have lost their lives in Afghanistan.  Since the counterinsurgency effort started in June 2009, 959 U.S. service members have been killed, and the most deadly year, 2010, was almost 50% more deadly than the previously most deadly year, 2009.

Deaths tell only part of the story.  11,191 Americans have been wounded in Afghanistan; about 8,000 of them since June 2009.  These injuries are often gruesome and life-altering.  Improved battlefield medicine and body armor coupled with the insurgency’s signature weapon– improvised explosive devices (IEDs)–have led to a rash of amputees, often of multiple limbs.

Those numbers, however,  don’t do full justice to the other ways the Afghan war has devastated the military.  The war has left thousands of veterans with wounds that aren’t easily visible. Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) have been hallmarks of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The VA says that up to 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have suffered or will suffer from PTSD.  The proliferation of IEDs in Afghanistan has caused a heartbreaking existential situation for our soldiers; while patrolling, every step could be their last.

For those with bleeding hearts, the impact on Afghan civilians should not be ignored.  Innocent Afghans are dying at a horrific rate in Afghanistan.  According to the United Nations, despite American efforts to “protect the population,” civilian casualties in 2011 are up 20% when compared to a similar period in 2010 (1080 dead, 10860 injured).  Worse, May 2011 was the deadliest month on record for Afghan civilians, with 368 dead in that month alone.

Killing civilians has a real impact on U.S. security.  Every time the United States accidentally kills an innocent Afghan, it risks making an enemy of that person’s entire family.  It only takes one smart, capable and pissed off Afghan to enter the U.S. and commit an act of revenge.  That is to say nothing of “homegrown” terrorists being motivated by civilian casualties.  The failed Times Square bomber said his motivation were civilian casualties caused by the CIA’s drone program in Pakistan.

The human toll might be more palatable if the security gains were more commiserate with the effort.  However, it has been a long time since the U.S. has seen any real security gain from its efforts in Afghanistan.  By the Government’s own admission, Al Qaeda barely exists in Afghanistan, and since the Osama bin Laden’s demise, Al Qaeda’s capabilities are unclear.  The Taliban pose little direct threat to the United States, and in order for them to post even an indirect threat to the U.S., they would have to re-take the country (hardly inevitable), and then host terrorist groups in Afghanistan (despite that very behavior bringing about their downfall in 2001).  The sacrifice our soldiers are making is not worth whatever incremental security gain we are receiving (if any), and the toll the operation is taking on Afghan civilians is disgraceful.

Certainly the war is expensive, but lives are far more precious than money.  Let’s bring our soldiers home quickly–doing that saves more than money, it saves lives.

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Written by keithboyea

July 8, 2011 at 8:27 am

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  1. […] argument for no: I’ve written on this before, but the American lives lost and the number of wounded Americans alone is enough, for me, to oppose […]


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