A Primer on the Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan
H. Patricia Hynes*
The U.S.-NATO war in Afghanistan began in October 2001 with bombing and missile attacks on Kabul followed by military operations on the ground. The "war on terrorism" was a retaliatory response to the September 11 attacks on the New YorkWorldTradeCenter and the Pentagon. The stated goals over the course of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan were to hunt down the mastermind Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda network, wrest control of the country from the Taliban, improve the status of Afghani women, and establish democracy.
Human and Economic Impacts
What are the human impacts of the war in Afghanistan?
Soldier and civilian deaths have been escalating each year since the war began, with 2009 being the deadliest. Nearly 1000 U.S. soldiers have been killed and 5000 injured; suicides have increased dramatically among young veterans due to multiple deployments and the overall stress of combat. War is far deadlier for civilians whose country is embroiled in war: An estimated 30,000 Afghanis have died and 250,000 have been displaced as a result of the war. Many thousands more have died prematurely from starvation and disease. The 100,000 deaths from heroin overdose worldwide comprise another war casualty, given that the output of opium from Afghanistan has grown to 92% of world supply.
Afghan women and children bear the brunt of the war. Domestic violence and the murder of women in public life have increased; the country has the second highest rate worldwide of women dying in childbirth. Parents sell daughters for food money; the literacy rate has stalled at 4th lowest in the world; and UNICEF labeled Afghanistan as one of the three most dangerous places in the world for a child to be born. All after more than 8 years of war allegedly to end the tyranny of the Taliban, usher in a stable democracy, and guarantee women's rights. (1)
How costly is the Afghan war?
Each soldier in Afghanistan costs U.S. taxpayers $1 million per year, a mind-numbing figure which includes the hefty costs of private military contractors. Given the $100 billion-plus price tag for the Afghan war in 2010, we are lurching toward another trillion dollar war, particularly with the projections of a long war by top military officials.
The number of Pentagon contractors in Afghanistan will likely grow to 160,000 as the number of U.S. soldiers reaches 100,000, the highest ratio of private military contractors to soldiers in U.S history. The Afghanistan war has been called the first U.S. contractor war; and it heralds a future in which waging war no longer requires citizens for soldiers, only money for mercenaries. According to a federal audit of Pentagon contractors in Afghanistan, 16% of monies paid to contractors has been for "questioned and unsupported costs." No matter the war's outcome, the defense industry and mercenary contractors win -- with windfall profits.
How is it that Congress wrangled for nearly a year over the cost of universal health care and then passed the largest defense budget in the history of the world ($636 billion) in late December '09 with nary a whimper nor headline? (2)
Does the war economy affect the domestic economy?
U.S. unemployment reached 10% at the end of December 2009 and is projected to rise in 2010. When we include the underemployed, and those who have given up looking for a job, the rate climbs to 17.3% at a time when states are suffering lower tax revenues and making large cuts in local human, social, educational and cultural services.
The National Priorities Project http://www.nationalpriorities.org/ provides up-to-date information for every state, city and town on what their war tax money could purchase in alternative domestic goods and services. For example, the 2009 cost of war to Massachusetts taxpayers could fund 600,000 Head Start jobs, provide health care for 1.5 million people, and fund renewable electricity for 7.5 million citizens.
Defense apologists argue that the Pentagon and the military industrial complex form the keystone of the economy, assuring military and defense-related civilian jobs as well as technical innovation. However, recent analysis of the effect of defense spending on job creation challenges this axiomatic notion. Comparing $1 billion spent on clean energy, health care, and education to the same amount spent on defense, researchers found that a larger number of jobs with mid- to high-range salaries and benefits would be created in the non-defense sectors than in defense. The reason? Military jobs provide higher average wages and much more generous benefits than the other sectors, thus fewer jobs overall per billion dollars spent. A related study assessed the long-term (20 year) effect on jobs and economic growth of current defense spending (5.6% of GDP). The results reveal a diminished economy: a loss of 2 million jobs and a reduction of 1.8% GDP. (3)