Unbeknown to most Americans, the Afghanistan war is the longest American war in its history. More importantly, this war defies the elements of a just war as elucidated by St Augustine of Hippo 2000 years ago: First, it was not based on clear, legitimate or just aims. The war aim was to capture Osama bin Laden but he was not in Afghanistan. Second, it should not have been undertaken out of hate, greed or other base motives, ostensibly, it was taken out of punishment of the Pashtun tribes under the mistaken view of their anti-American role. Third, this war was prosecuted as a first resort instead of a last resort and finally there must have been the likelihood of success, there is no success in this war.
To date, this is the longest war ever endured by the U.S. The only other longest wars the U.S. participated in were the Vietnam War from 1964-1972, and the Iraq War from 2003-2011. Sadly, there was no true victory in either of those two wars. Unfortunately, the same unsuccessful outcome will be true with the Afghanistan War. At this point, thousands of innocent lives, women, children, and American Soldiers have lost their lives in this war. To help alleviate any further damages incurred by the war, it is essential that the U.S. withdraw their forces this year instead in 2014. Most likely, historians will mark the Afghanistan war the greatest mistake of Obama's presidency, as he labeled it, "the right war."
When evaluating why the war should end in Afghanistan, it is very important to consider the total damages sustained compared to benefits endured from the war. Let's begin by considering the costs incurred by the United States. Tragically, as of May 5, 2013, there have been 2,206 American soldiers killed , and 18,462 wounded, all young Americans between 18 -29 years of age... Additionally, during the end of 2012, the Congressional Research Service estimated that the total operations cost for the Afghanistan War was $557 billion dollars, not including costs incurred in 2013 and beyond. To put this into comparison, the current California budget deficit is $16 billion dollars , and the federal budget deficit is estimated at $845 billion for 2013. Evidently, the amount spent on the war could have paid off California's deficit 34 times over.
Furthermore, when breaking down the U.S. expenses into components, the costs are quite alarming. Just to train and send one U.S. soldier to Afghanistan, it is estimated to cost the United States $500,000. And the estimated cost to deploy one U.S. civilian government employee in Afghanistan is $425,926-$570,998. Furthermore, there is also a substantial cost for the military equipment in Afghanistan. Currently, the U.S. military equipment in Afghanistan that has accumulated over the past 10 years is estimated to be worth $36 billion dollars. In addition to that, there is an estimated $12.8 million dollars purchased equipment sitting unused and in storage. Most of it will become worthless, as much of the equipment had warranties that are soon to expire and have yet to be tested. Evidently, it was not needed. Furthermore, what the nation owes to veterans who are disabled during service has more than doubled since 2000, rising from $14.8 billion in 2000 to $39.4 billion in 2011, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. In this case, Afghanistan and the Iraq War were key contributors. How do these costs measure up against the benefits of the war? What benefits were there for the United States in Afghanistan war? How did the security of the United States improve by occupying numerous villages or imprisoning thousands of Pushtun villages in Afghanistan?
To fully analyze the cost vs. benefits from the war, it's also necessary to consider the damages sustained by Afghanistan due to the war. From the war alone, it's estimated that Afghanistan has sustained over $100 million, USD, in property damages alone. Considering it is a very low income country having low GDP, that amount is a substantial loss to encounter. Moreover, it's estimated that at least 3,315,000 Afghans have been displaced due to the war. In addition to financial losses, the most critical damages they have sustained are from fatalities and injuries. Reports indicate that there were 225,000 civilian deaths and 365,000 physically wounded over 10 years of war in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq combined. However, the estimates in the civilian casualties in the Afghanistan War are likely to be largely underestimated due to the lack of proper body count. Nonetheless, the fact remains that the number of innocent civilian lives killed were enormous.
Afghanistan has also encountered many consequential war costs, which include diseases due to lack of clean drinking water, malnutrition and poverty, and reduced healthcare access. The war has also caused invisible problems to Afghan civilians. In 2009, the Afghan ministry said "fully two-thirds of Afghans suffer mental health problems," and over 800,000 Afghans are disabled due to the war. Sadly, once disabled, less than 30 percent are able to find work, leaving them with great financial hardships.
While the U.S. is starting to lower the level of troops in Afghanistan, in its place the U.S. is now increasing the use of Drones. Drone strikes rose 72 percent in 2012 compared to 2011, and there were 506 strikes alone in 2012. The problem is that while drones reduce risk for U.S. forces, it greatly increases safety risks for civilians. For example, an untargeted Afghan girl collecting firewood had died from shrapnel caused by a drone attack that hit only 30 yards from her home. There will continue to be a rise in risk as the use of armed drones is expected to accelerate as 66,000 troops are expected to leave by 2014. Why are we continuing to kill Afghans if we are withdrawing from the war?
On a societal level, it's also important to consider the impact on the tribal villages, such as the crime and genocide against the Pashtun Tribes. Pashtun people are the largest ethnic group in the world with 45 million living in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, they are constantly being pushed out of their villages. Around 85 percent of the 6.2 million Afghans that fled and emigrated due to the 1979 Soviet invasion were Pashtun. And now more are having to leave their villages due to U.S. war in Afghanistan War. They have experienced 30,000 pound bombs destroying their villages, burning of crops, killings of animals and civilians, many women and children. In general, the Pashtun tribes are wishing for peace, equal rights, and education, not war and terrorism. Sadly, they are wrongly being punished for the crimes committed by bin Laden, al-Qaeda, and the Arabs against the United States.
Upon considering the possible reasons the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, maybe it could have been due to capturing Osama bin Laden, wiping out the poppy production, doing away with warlords and drug lords, going after minerals, or spreading the democratic process to help increase jobs, equal rights for women and protection. Evidently, none of this happened, nor was it necessary. The only benefit that could have come from the war in Afghanistan was with capturing Osama bin Laden. However, that didn't come about due to the war, as bin Laden escaped Afghanistan through Tora Bora in 2001 and fled to Pakistan. Ostensibly he was not even living in Afghanistan during all of these war years. Therefore, it is regrettably reasonable to state that no significant benefits were created for the United States from the war.
The critical question remaining is how to end the longest American war in history? Fortunately, the answer to this is quite simple, which is to use Nixon's Vietnam and China approach. In this case, it would be to simply declare victory and pull out by withdrawing all U.S. troops and drones from Afghanistan. Furthermore, as the U.S. continues to withdraw troops, the number of American soldier and civilian casualties in Afghanistan will also substantially decline. Considering that there was substantially more damages than benefits from this war, it is clearly evident that the people of Afghanistan do not need the assistance of the U.S forces. They do not want it. They are fully capable leading their own government into proper organization necessary for peace and prosperity of their country.
Nake M. Kamrany is Professor of Economics and Director of Program in Law and Economics at the University of Southern California. Jessica Greenhalgh is a student of economics and biological sciences, and a Research Associate in the Economics Department and President of Global Income Convergence Group at the University of Southern California.