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Afghanistan: Marking the First Decade of Many

October 6, 2011

“This is the first decade of a many-decade war.” So declared Institute Prof. Catherine Lutz, co-director of the Costs of War project, at a talk falling one day before the 10-year anniversary of the US military engagement in Afghanistan.

Lutz presented the project’s major findings to a packed house Thursday at the Institute’s Joukowsky Forum.

The Costs of War research project, released last June, offers the most comprehensive analysis to date of the costs of America’s wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan.

“Many of the costs of war have not been counted,” Lutz said on Thursday, as she explained the goals of the Costs of War project. “They have been uncounted, or they have been hidden from the public.”

The multi-university Costs of War project, involving more than 20 economists, anthropologists, lawyers, and political scientists, concludes that the United States is on track to spend far more than anyone has recognized for these wars. The findings are elaborated in 22 in-depth academic papers, and summarized graphically online at costsofwar.org. A book compiling the research is also forthcoming.

On Thursday, Lutz summarized the project’s findings on the human, economic, social, and political costs of war.

Lutz said the costs of war are expected to continue for decades to come, regardless of impending troop withdrawals. She cited future costs of paying for veterans’ care as an example.

“A lot of these costs are ongoing,” Lutz said. “They will not end for decades.”

Beginning her presentation with a discussion of the human costs of war, Lutz said that while more than 6,000 American soldiers have died in the wars, it is difficult to gauge the levels of injury and illness among those who have returned from war. She said at least 600,000 disability claims have been filed to the Veterans’ Administration.

To be sure, civilian deaths have comprised most of the casualties of war. Lutz said conservative estimates by the Costs of War project conclude that between 236,000 and 250,000 people, in and out of uniform, have been killed as a result of the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. Almost 8 million people are now refugees or displaced persons as a result of the conflict, she said.

Lutz went on to break down some of the project’s economic findings, saying many of the wars’ costs have been buried in budgets, hidden from previous counts. She said the Costs of War project estimates the war-related bills already paid and expected to be paid currently stand between $3.2 and 4 trillion.

Lutz also discussed the social and political costs of war, assessing arguments that US invasions might have brought democracy or civil liberties to the region. But she said the Costs of War project found that Afghanistan and Iraq continue to rank low in global rankings of political freedom.

Lutz concluded by emphasizing the ongoing nature not only of US military engagement in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, but also the continuing costs associated with involvement in the region.

“It’s only the first ten years into the war in Afghanistan,” she said. “There are several more years of military campaign on the horizon, and potentially more.”

Even beyond that, “there are many decades of recuperation and reconstruction that are necessary for the lives of all of those people who have been affected by the invasions of ten years ago,” she said.

Were there alternatives to this war? Lutz analyzes the success rate of war against other types of responses in the video below.

 “Ten Years in Afghanistan: Costs and Consequences,” was jointly organized by the Brown Journal of World Affairs and the Watson Institute-based Costs of War project. BJWA Editors-in-Chief Mustafa Safdar ’12 and Sam Magaram ’12 moderated the discussion.

Lutz, the Thomas J. Watson, Jr. Family Professor of Anthropology and International Studies at Watson, co-directed the Costs of War Project with Neta Crawford ’85, a professor of political science at Boston University.

By Watson Institute Student Rapporteur Lauren Fedor ‘12