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The Afghanistan War – Funding, Timeline, Cost to Veterans, and Economic Costs

Written by experts Pat Collins and John Halloran.

Table of Contents

  • Timeline of the War in Afghanistan
  • Funding the War Efforts
  • Cost to Veterans
  • Economic Costs of the War
  • Loss of Life Statistics

“After 40-years of fighting, most Afghans can’t remember when there was peace.”

Afghanistan, officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a land-locked mountainous country in Central Asia with Pakistan to the east and Iran to the west. 

Afghanistan received world-wide attention on 11th September 2001 when four US jetliners were hijacked by al-Qaeda terrorists and deliberately crashed on American soil. In New York 2,750 people were killed; 184 people died at the Pentagon; and in Pennsylvania 40 people died when their plane was forced to crash. Included in these numbers were more than 400 firefighters and police officers.

This was the work of al-Qaeda, and some of the 19 terrorists involved had been trained in Afghanistan. After US President George W Bush’s demands to deliver al-Qaeda’s leader were rejected, US officials immediately began implementing a war plan. A joint US and British campaign started covertly in Afghanistan on September 26th, 2001. 

The war in Afghanistan and the War on Terror were launched in direct response to al-Qaeda’s 9/11 terrorist attacks.

FUNDING the Afghanistan War

The cost of the war in Afghanistan between the years 2001 and 2020 has amounted to a whopping US $978 billion; however, this figure increases dramatically when you allow for increases in base budgets for the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense.

  • Between the years 2000 and 2020 the budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) increased by more than $175 billion, keeping in mind that the War in Iraq was responsible for some of these costs.
  • During this same time period the base budget for the Department of Defense (DoD) increased by approximately $343 billion. This figure does not include the $978 billion in funds allocated to Overseas Contingency Operations and specifically committed to the war.

TIMELINE of the Afghanistan War

Commencing in the year 2001, the following is the timeline of the war in Afghanistan –


The 9/11 terrorist attacks on America were authorized by Osama bin Laden. US President George W Bush issued an ultimatum to the Taliban – deliver bin Laden or face the consequences of a US attack. Emergency funding in the amount of $22.9 billion was allocated by Congress. Taliban forces were bombed by US jets on October 7th, forcing the Taliban to leave the capital, Kabul. Hamid Karzai was named interim head of administration. Osama bin Laden was pursued by ground troops into the Afghan foothills. On  December 16th, 2001, bin Laden escaped to Pakistan.


Operation Anaconda was launched against the Taliban by the US military in March. President Bush vowed that Afghanistan would be reconstructed; he then focused his attention on the Iraq War.


The Bush Administration announced in May that major combat in Afghanistan was over. Control of the peacekeeping mission was handed over to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). At its peak there were 130,000 troops from 50 united countries in Afghanistan.


A new constitution was ratified in Afghanistan on January 26th. On October 9th, just 9-months later, Afghans attending their first free election were protected by the US military from attacks by the Taliban. Osama bin Laden threatened another terrorist attack on October 29th.


An agreement between President Bush and Karzai was signed on May 23rd, which gave the US access to military facilities in Afghanistan; the US was to provide equipment and training. On September 18th approximately 6-million voters turned out for elections for both local and national councils.


In January, a bungled US airstrike in Damadola, Pakistan, was responsible for 18 deaths – none of the victims were al-Qaeda. The new government in Afghanistan was struggling to deliver police protection and other basic services. This resulted in an increase in violence.


Mullah Dadullah, a Taliban commander, was killed by US, NATO, and Afghan allies.


US troops accidentally killed civilians, causing violence to escalate in Afghanistan.


Barack Obama was elected President of the United States and approved sending a further 17,000 troops to Afghanistan by April, with another 30,000 troops to be sent in December. Lt. General Stanley McChrystal was named Commander. Hamid Karzai was re-elected by voters, but came with accusations of fraud.


Surge forces were sent to southern Afghanistan by NATO to fight the Taliban. At that time it was agreed that all defense would be turned over to Afghan forces by 2014. General David Petraeus was appointed by President Obama to replace McChrystal. Parliamentary elections were held in Afghanistan and these were also plagued by fraud accusations.


Osama bin Laden was killed by Special Forces on May 1st, 2011. President Obama announced that 10,000 troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by years end, with a further 23,000 by the summer of 2012. Preliminary peace talks were held between the US and Taliban leaders.


President Obama announced that 23,000 troops were to be withdrawn from Afghanistan in the summer; this would leave 70,000 remaining troops. It was agreed by both sides that the US would hasten troops withdrawn to 2013. US peace talks were cancelled by the Taliban.


US forces moved to a support and training role. Peace negotiations with the US were reignited by the Taliban; this resulted in Karzai suspending his negotiations with the US.


Final US troop withdrawal was announced by President Obama; this left just 9,800 advisors at the end of the year.


Afghan forces are trained by US troops.


Funding was requested by the Department of Defense for training programs in Afghanistan, in addition to equipment and training for Syrian opposition forces. The funding was also required for responding to terrorist threats and NATO support.


$58.8 million was requested by the Department of Defense for Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq and the Levant, and Operation Freedom Sentinel in Afghanistan, as well as counter-terrorism and increased European support.


According to the Air Force, up to this point, more bombs and other explosives were dropped by the US than during any other year of the Afghanistan war.


That record was broken again by the US. The violence continued, and across Afghanistan the Taliban carried out terrorist attacks. Scheduled peace talks with the Taliban in the summer were cancelled by President Trump. In September, elections were held; however, results were delayed.


Following the resumption of peace negotiations, a peace deal was signed in February by the Taliban and the US. When a winner of the 2019 elections was eventually announced, the results were rejected by his rival who then declared himself the winner.


On August 30, 2021 the United States Armed Forces completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan which began on February 29, 2020. The capital city of Kabul had fallen to Taliban forces by the 15th of August 2021.

President Biden was heavily criticized for allowing the Taliban to take back the country and billions of dollars worth of US military equipment. 

On the 26th of August at 17:50 local time, a bombing took place inside Hamid Karzai International Airport killing 182 people including 13 US troops. ISIL-KP has taken responsibility for the attack and named the bomber. 

Financial costs have exceeded two trillion dollars. 

FUNDING Figures For The War in Afghanistan

As part of overseas contingency operations, the Department of Defense released the following breakdown of funding for the Afghanistan war


Note: In 2017 the Department of Defense declined to state how many military troops were operating in Afghanistan.

COST to Veterans

Taking physical and mental care of war veterans is a costly exercise and typically spikes about three or four decades after a conflict. According to Linda Bilmes, a public finance senior lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, the cost of medical and disability payments to war veterans over the next 40 years will be in excess of $1 trillion.

The main injury plaguing both Afghanistan and Iraq veterans is traumatic brain injury. Since the year 2000 almost 350,000 veterans have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury. More worryingly, a Veterans Affairs study revealed that almost 20 veterans commit suicide each and every day. According to Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, 62% of their members personally know of a veteran who has committed suicide. This groups states that their top issue is veteran suicide.

ECONOMIC COSTS of the Afghanistan War 

Referring to the economic costs of this war, most American families were not directly impacted by the Afghanistan war, which is different to earlier wars. There was no direct tax imposed to pay for the war, and no draft. But that doesn’t mean there haven’t been steep economic costs which are ultimately paid for by US taxpayers. 

According to researcher Ryan Edwards, the United States acquired an additional interest payment of $453 billion on the debt owed for the Middle Eastern wars. Statistics reveal that the Afghanistan war is only just behind the $4.1 trillion (inflation-adjusted) that was incurred by World War II. It’s believed these costs will add an additional $7.9 trillion to the national debt over the next 40 years.

Due to Reserve and National Guard call-ups, many businesses, especially small businesses, were severely disrupted by the Afghanistan war. In addition, service members psychologically traumatized, wounded, and killed, have deprived the economy of their productive contributions. It’s almost impossible to quantify these economic costs, but we know the effects will be felt for many years, even decades, to come.

Loss of Life Statistics

The costs of the US war in Afghanistan have been astronomical. Not only in financial terms but socially and economically as well.

Since 2001, the US has spent $2,313,000,000,000 ($2.313 trillion) on the war, including operations in Pakistan. Keep in mind, this doesn’t include the long-term cost of care for veterans or interest payments owed in the future against the debt generated to fund the war.


The social and human costs of the war have been equally devastating. A total of 6,208 Americans and 1,145 allied troops have lost their lives between Afghanistan and Pakistan. While 73,253 members of the national military and police, and 71,344 civilians were killed as well. Keep in mind, these numbers do not include Iraq.

It’s estimated that a total of 241,000 people have died, directly related to this war. These numbers do not include those that have died because of lack of food and water or disease due to the war’s impact.

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