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America’s longest war cost thousands of lives, trillions of dollars

A look at the numbers behind the 20-year US fight in Afghanistan, a human and financial toll the country will be paying for decades to come

In this image provided by the US Air Force, flag-draped transfer cases line the inside of a transport plane Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021, prior to a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base, Del. The fallen service members were killed while supporting non-combat operations in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Jason Minto/US Air Force via AP)
In this image provided by the US Air Force, flag-draped transfer cases line the inside of a transport plane Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021, prior to a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base, Del. The fallen service members were killed while supporting non-combat operations in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Jason Minto/US Air Force via AP)

AP — US military planes have carried the last US service members and diplomats from Kabul’s airport, ending America’s longest war.

Ordinary Americans closely watched the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, as they did the start of the war nearly 20 years ago, in the weeks after the 9/11 attacks. But Americans often tended to forget about the Afghanistan war in between, and it received measurably less oversight from Congress than the Vietnam War did.

But its death toll for Afghans and Americans and their NATO allies is in the many tens of thousands. And because the US borrowed most of the money to pay for it, generations of Americans to come will be paying off its cost, in the trillions of dollars.

A look at the US-led war in Afghanistan, by the numbers, as the last Americans deployed there departed.

Much of the data below is from Linda Bilmes of Harvard University’s Kennedy School and from the Brown University Costs of War project. Because the United States between 2003 and 2011 fought the Afghanistan and Iraq wars simultaneously, and many American troops served tours in both wars, some figures as noted cover both post-9/11 U.S. wars.

The Longest War:

Percentage of US population born since the 2001 attacks plotted by al-Qaida leaders who were sheltering in Afghanistan: Roughly one out of every four.

In this Monday, Dec. 31, 2001 file picture, Marines with full battle gear prepare to board transport helicopters at the US military compound at Kandahar airport for a mission to an undisclosed location in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/John Moore, File)

The Human Cost:

American service members killed in Afghanistan: 2,461.

US contractors, through April: 3,846.

Afghan national military and police, through April: 66,000.

Other allied service members, including from other NATO member states, through April: 1,144.

Afghan civilians, through April: 47,245.

Taliban and other opposition fighters, through April: 51,191.

Aid workers, through April: 444.

Men carry the coffin of a local victim of a gun attack on a Japanese aid worker’s vehicle in the city of Jalalabad east of Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. Japanese physician and aid worker Tetsu Nakamura has died of his wounds after an attack that also killed five Afghans, including the doctor’s bodyguards, the driver and a passenger. (AP Photo/Wali Sabawoon)

Journalists, through April: 72.

Afghanistan after nearly 20 years of US occupation:

Percentage drop in infant mortality rate since US, Afghan and other allied forces overthrew the Taliban government, which had sought to restrict women and girls to the home: About 50.

Percentage of Afghan teenage girls able to read today: 37.

Percentage of Afghans with access to electricity in 2005: 22

In 2019: 98.

Days before the US withdrawal that the Taliban retook control: 15.

Afghan girls students attend school classes in a primary school in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, March 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

Oversight by Congress:

Date Congress authorized US forces to go after culprits in Sept. 11, 2001, attacks: Sept. 18, 2001.

Number of times US lawmakers have voted to declare war in Afghanistan: 0.

Number of times lawmakers on Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee addressed costs of Vietnam War, during that conflict: 42

Number of times lawmakers in same subcommittee have mentioned costs of Afghanistan and Iraq wars, through mid-summer 2021: 5.

Number of times lawmakers on Senate Finance Committee have mentioned costs of Afghanistan and Iraq wars since Sept. 11, 2001, through mid-summer 2021: 1.

Paying for a war on credit, not in cash:

Amount President Harry Truman temporarily raised top tax rates to pay for Korean War: 92%.

Amount President Lyndon Johnson temporarily raised top tax rates to pay for Vietnam War: 77%.

Amount President George W. Bush cut tax rates for the wealthiest, rather than raise them, at outset of Afghanistan and Iraq wars: At least 8%.

John Smigel of Aurora, Colo., who served in the Vietnam War as a specialist in the US Army, salutes after putting a flag at the gravesite of Army Sgt. Michael P. Scusa, who died in October 2009 while serving in Afghanistan, in Fort Logan National Cemetery Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020, in Sheridan, Colo. Concerns about the spread of the coronavirus have prompted the cancellation of the parade and memorials to mark Veterans Day. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Estimated amount of direct Afghanistan and Iraq war costs that the United States has debt-financed as of 2020: $2 trillion.

Estimated interest costs by 2050: Up to $6.5 trillion.

The wars end, the costs don’t

Amount Bilmes estimates the United States will pay in health care, disability, burial and other costs for roughly 4 million Afghanistan and Iraq veterans: more than $2 trillion.

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