The Twenty Years' War

The Bundeswehr has left Afghanistan. War record: a quarter of a million casualties, a severely aggrieved population, the Taliban rapidly gaining ground.

BERLIN/WASHINGTON/KABUL | | afghanistan

BERLIN/WASHINGTON/KABUL (Own report) - The second longest and bloodiest military mission of the Federal Republic of Germany has come to an end. After nearly twenty years of war, the last soldiers of the Bundeswehr, who left Afghanistan the night before, landed yesterday, Wednesday, at the Wunstorf Airbase near Hanover. According to the "Costs of War Project" at the Ivy League Brown University in the USA, around a quarter of a million people lost their lives in combat at the Hindu Kush, and an unknown number of victims lost their lives due to the direct consequences of the war. Nearly seven million Afghans have fled their homes; the countless numbers are wounded or maimed, including tens of thousands of children. US expenditure alone for that slaughter amount to more that US $2.2 trillion; the German government puts its expenditures for the Bundeswehr mission at €12.2 billion. As the western troops withdraw, the Taliban is taking control of ever larger portions of that country. Soon the balance of power that had existed just before the war began in September 2001, would be reestablished.

A Quarter of a Million Casualties

The war in Afghanistan has left a horrendous death toll. The "Costs of War Project," run since 2010 by the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at the Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island - one of the Ivy League elite US universities - provides at regular intervals reliable body counts, although probably not entirely comprehensive, due to the situation in the country. According to the project, by mid-April 2021 some 241,000 people had been killed, including around 71,300 civilians and approximately 69,000 Afghan soldiers and police officers in Afghanistan and the bordering regions of Pakistan, where the war had spread.[1] The "Costs of War Project," also lists 2,442 casualties among US soldiers, 1,144 soldiers among allied military forces, as well as nearly 4,000 US mercenaries and other security personnel. The project specifically notes that this only includes direct combat victims, not the Afghans and Pakistanis, who fell victim to the direct consequences of the war, meaning all those, who died of illness, lack of water, food, and shelter or similar consequences of the war.

Injured, Maimed, Starving

In addition to the casualties, there were immense other human as well as enormous material damage inflicted. Countless Afghans have been wounded or maimed in the war. For the past ten years alone, the United Nations registered 7,792 children killed and 18,662 injured. Many of the wounded children have lost limbs to improvised roadside bombs and air attacks.[2] Afghanistan has a current population of 36 million, 4 million of which are displaced within the country and another 2.7 million Afghans have fled abroad, mostly to Iran and Pakistan.[3] Whereas life expectancy in the country has risen from 56 (2001) to 64 (2019) - one of the few signs of progress - the poverty rate has significantly increased - from 33.7 percent in 2007 to 54.5 percent in 2016. In 2019, UNICEF reported that 3.7 million Afghan school age children were not attending school. Numerous schools - like countless other buildings, including some hospitals - have been damaged or totally destroyed. Their damage weighs heavily on Afghanistan's poorly developed infrastructure.

Trillions for the War

The war in Afghanistan has swallowed up huge sums of money that is needed elsewhere. The "Costs of War Project" puts the expenditures of the USA alone from 2001 to 2021 at around US $2.26 trillion. This sum does not include funds that the United States government is obligated to spend on lifetime care for American veterans of this war, nor does it include future interest payments on money borrowed to fund the war.[4] It became known in March that the large sums, with which the concomitant construction of civilian infrastructure was to be financed, has dissipated. According to a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a supervisory authority of the US government, since 2008, Washington had made a total of US $7.8 billion available for the construction of buildings and the purchase of vehicles. However, only a portion of that amount, US $1.2 billion was used as intended.[5] Most of the structures wound up not used, deteriorated or abandoned because their maintenance had not been clarified. Currently, only US $343.2 million worth of buildings and vehicles "were maintained "in good condition."

Billions for the Military

Germany also spent huge sums on the Afghanistan war. For the Bundeswehr mission from 2001 to the end of 2020 alone, the German government had spent around €12.2 billion.[6] For the same period, there was an additional €425 million in expenditures for humanitarian aid - not even four percent of what had been invested for purely military matters. The amount of expenditures for other civilian projects, carried out alongside the military mission, is not exactly known. However, according to estimates based on information provided by the German government on September 11, 2018, from the at least €15.82 billion had inter-agency been spent on Afghanistan by August 27, 2018 - €11.22 billion went to the Bundeswehr.[7] A good €4.6 billion was spent on non-military purposes.

The Taliban on the Offensive

The voluminous financial resources - alongside US-American and German, also the financial means provided by the diverse other western powers and their allies - flowed into a war, that had not only cost countless human lives, caused hardly quantifiable social damage and immense material destruction, but was also de facto a defeat, even by the standards of the countries waging the war: it was unsuccessful and pointless. In the meantime, even the highest ranking commander of the retreating US troops, Gen. Austin "Scott" Miller, admits that the Taliban is rapidly advancing. By some experts' estimates, Taliban forces control as many as 140 of the country's 370 districts and are active or influential in 170 others. "More districts continue to fall" to the Taliban "almost daily," either "in violent clashes or by peaceful surrenders."[8] Miller refers to a "countrywide offensive," and raises fears of a development similar to the 1990s after Soviet forces left. As things stand, the Taliban will take power in Kabul in the foreseeable future, which would return the country to the situation immediately preceding the war in 2001.

 

[1] U.S. Costs to Date for the War in Afghanistan, in $ Billions, 2001-2021. watson.brown.edu.

[2] Afghanistan. Visualising the impact of 20 years of war. interactive.aljazeera.com.

[3] Isabel Debre: Counting the costs of America's 20-year war in Afghanistan. apnews.com 30.04.2021.

[4] U.S. Costs to Date for the War in Afghanistan, in $ Billions, 2001-2021. watson.brown.edu.

[5] Kathy Gannon: Report: US wasted billions on cars, buildings in Afghanistan. abcnews.go.com 01.03.2021.

[6] Antwort der Bundesregierung auf die Kleine Anfrage der Abgeordneten Heike Hänsel, Christine Buchholz, Sevim Dağdelen, weiterer Abgeordneter und der Fraktion Die Linke. Deutscher Bundestag, Drucksache 19/28361. Berlin, 12.04.2021.

[7] Afghanistan: rund 16 Milliarden Euro für Frieden und Aufbau. bundeswehr-journal.de 14.11.2018.

[8] Pamela Constable: U.S. military commander in Afghanistan warns of chaotic civil war. washingtonpost.com 29.06.2021.