It’s Official: Afghanistan Is More Expensive To Rebuild Than World War II Europe

news
Bill Stratton, Army Corps of Engineers, puts mortar on a brick as he demonstrates the proper technique used when constructing a wall, Feb. 3, Laghman province, northeastern Afghanistan.
Army photo

When World War II came to a close, the United States put up roughly $120 billion in today’s dollars to rebuild Europe under the vaunted Marshall Plan. That still-celebrated project not only restored much of the continent physically after the war’s ravages, it also launched an era of economic prosperity that modernized much of the developed West.


Afghanistan is a different story.

“Adjusted for inflation, American spending to reconstruct Afghanistan now exceeds the total expended to rebuild all of Western Europe under the Marshall Plan,” military historian Andrew Bacevich writes in a New York Times op-ed published Monday. He goes on:

For this, over the past 15 years, nearly 2,400 American soldiers have died, and 20,000 more have been wounded… Why has Washington ceased to care about the Afghan war

The answer, it seems to me, is this: As with budget deficits or cost overruns on weapons purchases, members of the national security apparatus — elected and appointed officials, senior military officers and other policy insiders — accept war as a normal condition.

Since its launch in October 2001, Operation Enduring Freedom and its successor, Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, have run up a tab of $686 billion, with $113 billion going toward reconstruction since 2002. Adjusted for inflation, that figure exceeds the Marshall Plan’s $120 billion, according to a 2016 report from the inspector general.

And the United States’ objectives are nowhere near completion in Afghanistan.

“To have any hope of surviving, the Afghan government will for the foreseeable future remain almost completely dependent on outside support,” Bacevich writes. “The United States has invested $70 billion in rebuilding Afghan security forces, [but] only 63% of the country’s districts are under government control, with significant territory lost to the Taliban over the past year.”

The country continues to face widescale corruption, and will continue to rely on military aid. Most recent estimates put U.S. troops deployed to Afghanistan at 8,400, but Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will soon set new troop levels.

The U.S. objective in Afghanistan “is the same now as it was in 2001: to prevent terrorists from using the country's territory to attack our homeland,” write Sen. Lindsey Graham and Sen. John McCain in a March 14 op-ed for The Washington Post. “We seek to achieve this objective by supporting Afghan governance and security institutions as they become capable of standing on their own, defending their country and defeating our common terrorist enemies with less U.S. assistance over time.” If Bacevich’s analysis is anywhere near correct, our kids may be chasing those same objectives years from now.

U.S. Air Force airmen from the 405th Expeditionary Support Squadron work together to clear debris inside the passenger terminal the day after a Taliban-led attack at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Dec. 12, 2019. (U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Brandon Cribelar)

Blasts from Taliban car bombs outside of Bagram Airfield on Wednesday caused extensive damage to the base's passenger terminal, new pictures released by the 45th Expeditionary Wing show.

The pictures, which are part of a photo essay called "Bagram stands fast," were posted on the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service's website on Thursday.

Read More Show Less
The U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) returns to Fleet Activities Yokosuka following a collision with a merchant vessel while operating southwest of Yokosuka, Japan, June 17, 2017 (U.S. Navy photo)

Editor's Note: The following is an op-ed. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Task & Purpose.

Shortly after seven sailors died aboard USS Fitzgerald when she collided with a merchant ship off Japan in 2017, I wrote that the Fitzgerald's watch team could have been mine. My ship had once had a close call with me on watch, and I had attempted to explain how such a thing could happen. "Operating ships at sea is hard, and dangerous. Stand enough watches, and you'll have close calls," I wrote at the time. "When the Fitzgerald's investigation comes out, I, for one, will likely be forgiving."

The investigations, both public and private, are out, and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a report assessing the changes to training implemented since the collisions.

So, am I forgiving? Yes — for some.

Read More Show Less
Belgian nurse Augusta Chiwy, left, talks with author and military historian Martin King moments before receiving an award for valor from the U.S. Army, in Brussels, Dec. 12, 2011. (Associated Press/Yves Logghe)

Editor's note: a version of this story first appeared in 2015.

Most people haven't heard of an elderly Belgian-Congolese nurse named Augusta Chiwy. But students of history know that adversity and dread can turn on a dime into freedom and change, and it's often the most humble and little-known individuals who are the drivers of it.

During the very darkest days of the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, Chiwy was such a catalyst, and hundreds of Americans lived because of her. She died quietly on Aug. 23, 2015, at the age of 94 at her home in Brussels, Belgium, and had it not been for the efforts of my friend — British military historian Martin King — the world may never have heard her astonishing story.

Read More Show Less
A Ukrainian serviceman watches from his position at the new line of contact in Zolote, Luhansk region, eastern Ukraine Nov. 2, 2019 (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

More than $20 million of the Pentagon aid at the center of the impeachment fight still hasn't reached Ukraine.

The continued delay undermines a key argument against impeachment from President Trump's Republican allies and a new legal memo from the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Read More Show Less
(Glow Images via Associated Press_

Average pay, housing and subsistence allowances will increase for members of the military in 2020, the Pentagon announced Thursday.

Read More Show Less