WASHINGTON, DC — The United States is currently spending an estimated $45 billion annually on the more than 16-year-old war in Afghanistan, nearly half what the American government spent during the peak of the conflict in 2011, according to a top Pentagon official.
The Trump administration official estimated the annual Afghan war cost during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Tuesday about U.S. President Donald Trump’s Afghan strategy.
To put the figure in context, panel member Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) quoted Dr. Andrew Kolodny, the co-director of the Opioid policy research center at Brandeis University, saying:
Forty-five billion dollars a year is an amazing amount of money to be spending. Just by comparison Andrew Kolodny who works at Brandeis University and he is the director of their opioid research facility, he said that if you just took two months of Afghanistan spending and dedicated it towards the opioid crisis, you can have an opioid center in every single county in the United States of America.
The United States has 3,007 counties. In 2016, the latest year for which data appears on record, the number of fatal drug overdoses reached an unprecedented 64,070, fueled primarily by opioids like heroin and synthetic heroin.
Despite about $8.7 billion in American taxpayer funds spent on counternarcotics operations in Afghanistan, the country remains the world’s top producer of opium and heroin, but the DEA insists very little of it makes its way into the United States, noting that Latin American drug cartels are responsible for bringing the bulk of the deadly drug on American soil.
Meanwhile, the majority of heroin in neighboring Canada does come from Afghanistan. The Trump administration has declared the opioid epidemic currently gripping the United States a public health emergency and a national security threat.
Based on the figure unveiled by Randall Schriver, the assistant secretary of defense for Asian & Pacific Security Affairs, the United States is currently spending about $3.7 billion monthly on the war in Afghanistan.
An analysis by Brown University’s Cost of War project revealed that the U.S. had devoted about $877 billion to the ongoing Afghanistan conflict since it started in October 2001, placing current annual war spending at about $49 billion.
Schriver explained that his $45 billion estimate includes about $5 billion devoted to Afghan forces and $13 billion for U.S. troops inside Afghanistan, the rest invested in logistical support.
John Sullivan, the deputy secretary of state, who testified alongside the Pentagon official, added that the United States spends about $780 million on economic aid.
“The costs now are still significantly lower than during the high point of the war in Afghanistan,” reports the Associated Press (AP). “From 2010 to 2012, when the U.S. had as many as 100,000 soldiers in the country, the price for American taxpayers surpassed $100 billion each year. There are currently around 16,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.”
Some lawmakers acknowledged that Afghanistan’s annual economic output, or gross domestic product (GDP), is insufficient to pay for the yearly cost of the war.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) placed Afghanistan’s 2017 GDP at about $20 billion, less than half of what the United States is spending on the conflict each year.
U.S. nation-building efforts in Afghanistan alone have exceeded $120 billion since the war started more than 16 years ago.