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Biden cited Brown researchers in measuring the cost of the Afghan war. Here’s the background

The war in Afghanistan cost $300 million a day for two decades, according to the “Costs of War” project, which is team based out of Brown University

President Joe Biden speaks about the end of the war in Afghanistan from the State Dining Room of the White House, Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021, in Washington.Evan Vucci/Associated Press

PROVIDENCE — President Joe Biden faced the nation Tuesday, declaring that after 20 years, the war in Afghanistan was finally over. In his speech, he cited researchers at Brown University who have measured the cost of the two-decades long battle.

“I refuse to send another generation of America’s sons or daughters to fight a war that should have ended long ago… After more than $2 trillion spent in Afghanistan. The cost that researchers at Brown University estimated would be over $300 million a day for 20 years in Afghanistan,” said Biden. “Yes, the American people should hear this.”

The Brown researchers Biden referred to are with the university’s Costs of War project, which is housed at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. They estimate that about $800 billion went to direct war-fighting costs, $85 billion went to training the Afghan army (which folded), and U.S. taxpayers have been providing Afghan soldiers about $750 million each year in payroll.

In total, Brown’s researchers estimate total spending is closer to about $2.31 trillion for operations in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. But this figure does not include funds that the federal 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.


What Biden calls the “forever war” began in response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 when nearly 3,000 people were killed in New York, rural Pennsylvania, and Washington D.C.

In the last two decades, the US has spent or obligated more than $6.4 trillion on the post-Sept. 11 wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, according to the Costs of War project. And the wars have been paid for almost entirely by borrowing, which has raised the US budget deficit, increased the national debt, and had other macroeconomic effects (like raising consumer interest rates), according to the Costs of War project.


“There is nothing low grade or low risk or low cost about any war,” Biden said. “It is time to end the war in Afghanistan.”

The evacuation period, which began Aug. 14 and ended when the last airlift took off from the Kabul airport Monday, took more than 120,000 people out of Afghanistan. But about 100 to 200 Americans were left behind.

The Costs of War Project also estimated that 241,000 people have died as a result of the war, which do not include deaths caused by diseases, loss of access to food, water, infrastructure, or any other indirect consequences of war. But that figure does include US service members, civilian workers of the defense department, contractors, allied troops, civilians, opposition fighters, humanitarian aid workers, and journalists.

From all post-Sept. 11 direct deaths in major war zones (which include Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2001 to 2019, Iraq from 2003 to 2019, Syria from 2014 to 2019, Yemen from 2002 to 2019, among other countries), the Costs of War project estimated that about 801,0000 people were killed directly in the violence of these wars.

Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.