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Killing each Taliban soldier costs $50 Million

Killing 20 Taliban costs $1 Billion / Killing all the Taliban would cost $1.7 Trillion
Matthew J. Nasuti (Former U.S. Air Force Captain)
Thursday 30 September 2010

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The Pentagon will not tell the public what it costs to locate, target and kill a single Taliban soldier because the price-tag is so scandalously high that it makes the Taliban appear to be Super-Soldiers. As set out in this article, the estimated cost to kill each Taliban is as high as $100 million, with a conservative estimate being $50 million. A public discussion should be taking place in the United States regarding whether the Taliban have become too expensive an enemy to defeat.

Each month the Pentagon generates a ream of dubious statistics designed to create the illusion of progress in Afghanistan. In response this author decided to compile his own statistics. As the goal of any war is to kill the enemy, the idea was to calculate what it actually costs to kill just one of the enemy. The obstacles encountered in generating such a statistic are formidable. The problem is that the Pentagon continues to illegally classify all negative war news and embarrassing information. Regardless, some information has been collected from independent sources. Here is what we know in summary and round numbers:

1. Taliban Field Strength: 35,000 troops

2. Taliban Killed Per Year by Coalition forces: 2,000 (best available information)

3. Pentagon Direct Costs for Afghan War for 2010: $100 billion

4. Pentagon Indirect Costs for Afghan War for 2010: $100 billion

Using the fact that 2,000 Taliban are being killed each year and that the Pentagon spends $200 billion per year on the war in Afghanistan, one simply has to divide one number into the other. That calculation reveals that $100 million is being spent to kill each Taliban soldier. In order to be conservative, the author decided to double the number of Taliban being killed each year by U.S. and NATO forces (although the likelihood of such being true is unlikely). This reduces the cost to kill each Taliban to $50 million, which is the title of this article. The final number is outrageously high regardless of how one calculates it.

To put this information another way, using the conservative estimate of $50 million to kill each Taliban:

It costs the American taxpayers $1 billion to kill 20 Taliban

As the U.S. military estimates there to be 35,000 hard-core Taliban and assuming that no reinforcements and replacements will arrive from Pakistan and Iran:

Just killing the existing Taliban would cost $1.75 Trillion

The reason for these exorbitant costs is that United States has the world’s most mechanized, computerized, weaponized and synchronized military, not to mention the most pampered (at least at Forward Operating Bases). An estimated 150,000 civilian contractors support, protect, feed and cater to the American personnel in Afghanistan, which is an astonishing number. The Americans enjoy such perks and distinctions in part because no other country is willing to pay (waste) so much money on their military.

The ponderous American war machine is a logistics nightmare and a maintenance train wreck. It is also part-myth. This author served at a senior level within the U.S. Air Force. Air Force “smart” bombs are no way near as consistently accurate as the Pentagon boasts; Army mortars remain inaccurate; even standard American field rifles are frequently outmatched by Taliban weapons, which have a longer range. The American public would pale if it actually learned the full story about the poor quality of the weapons and equipment that are being purchased with its tax dollars. The Taliban’s best ally within the United States may be the Pentagon, whose contempt for fiscal responsibility and accountability may force a premature U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan as the Americans cannot continue to fund these Pentagon excesses.

If President Obama refuses to drastically reform the Pentagon’s inefficient way of making war, he may conclude that the Taliban is simply too expensive an enemy to fight. He would then have little choice but to abandon the Afghan people to the Taliban’s “Super-Soldiers.” That would be an intolerable disgrace.

The problem is not simply within the Pentagon.

The hapless U.S. State Department is equally to blame. It:

1. Continues to sit on the sidelines of this war;

2. Refused for nine years to deploy an adequate number of civilian experts;

3. Continues to hire abusive and disreputable security contractors;

4. Failed to fight for the needs of Afghan civilians; and

5. Has made little effort to win their hearts and minds.

A crucial statistic that demonstrates this is to compare military and security expenditures by the United States in Afghanistan with expenditures for civilian aid, such as reconstruction. That statistic is as follows:

Money spent on Military/Security: $365 billion
Money spent on Afghan civilians: $8.5 billion

This latter number spells out “FAILURE.” U.S. diplomats and USAID officials have failed to improve the lives of ordinary Afghans and as a result they have accomplished the impossible. Their lack of resolve and interest has made an increasing number of disillusioned Afghans view Taliban rule as potentially an improvement.

Appendix (Supporting Information)

Taliban Field Strength:

The figure of 35,000 is based on an interview given by General Stanley McChrystal earlier this year.

Taliban Soldiers Killed:

The Pentagon refuses to disclose the total number of Taliban killed each month in Afghanistan by coalition forces, special operations personnel and the CIA. One reason became obvious during Operation Moshtarak in Marjah earlier this year. The Pentagon and NATO refused to specify the actual number of Taliban casualties in Marjah because the number was embarrassing low. American, NATO and Afghan forces reportedly suffered more casualties (killed and wounded) than they inflicted on the Taliban, making Marjah a military defeat for the West (if casualties determine victory or defeat).

To fill the gap created by Pentagon silence on this issue, media groups have published their own Taliban casualty count based on official and press reports. That count is inflated as the U.S. military labels everyone it kills a “Taliban militant,” even if they are criminals, drug traders, war lords or civilians defending their homes. As a result of the Pentagon’s lack of credibility on this issue, this author assumes that only 50% of those labeled as Taliban actually are.

The Associated Press has reported that 3,800 militants were killed in 2008, and 4,500 in 2009. Pro-NATO blogs, such as the web site “Terrorist Death Watch,” have calculated that 3,667 terrorists have been killed in Afghanistan since January 1, 2006, (about 700 per year). The author assumes that an average of 2,000 hard-core Taliban are killed each year

U.S. Military Costs:

Total military expenditures in Afghanistan are not clear as the Pentagon does not release all of its direct and indirect cost for the war. While most direct costs are known, billions of dollars in CIA and special operations costs are improperly classified and remain hidden. In addition, the indirect costs for the war (i.e., military regular pay, equipment depreciation, wear & tear, long term health costs, Pentagon support costs within the U.S., USTRANSCOM transportation costs, transport hub costs such as Manas air base, costs for borrowing funds etc.) are not precisely known. Independent studies conducted of the Iraq war are available and they calculate that the indirect costs equal or exceed the direct costs.

What we know about Pentagon direct costs is as follows:

- From 2001, to April 2009, the Pentagon directly spent $171.7 billion in Afghanistan.

  • From May 2009, to the present, the Pentagon directly spent an additional $166.3 billion. This is an incredible increase over the past 17 months.

Monthly expenditures have also seen a staggering increase.

  • October 2009, the Pentagon was directly spending $3.6 billion a month.
  • February 2010, the Pentagon was directly spending $6.7 billion a month.
  • October 2010, with the addition of 35,000 more combat and support troops into Afghanistan, the number must be close to $8 billion a month.

Some estimates place direct Pentagon Afghan war costs for all of 2010, at $105 billion.

U.S. State Department Costs:

Officially the State Department and USAID have expended about $35 billion in Afghanistan since 2001. According to most audits, about 75% or $27.5 billion has been spent on training, housing and equipping the Afghan security services, and road construction with the balance ($8.5 billion) being spent on civilian projects. Much of this $8.5 billion has been wasted on dilapidated schools and minor “trophy” projects in Kabul.

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Forum posts

  • I am glad that somebody has finally done this basic piece of arithmetic, and I am saddened, infuriated, that it is coming from Afghanistan rather than from the US media or political spheres.

    We had basically the same problem in Vietnam. There, each Vietcong cost something like $50,000 in real 1960’s US dollars to kill. Great cartoon of the time pointed out that each Vietnameses killed by US airstrikes alone cost $20,000 in ordnance—cartoon had two GI’s saying that it’d be cheaper to bomb North Vietnam with Cadillacs. How sadly true.

    I direct your attention to my piece, now four years old, posted on the Dandelion Salad weblog—"Our Defeat Is Certain, and it is Soon". The only thing stupider than the cost of our wars in the region is the insane strategic position and strategic vulnerability the US forces in the region are in. It would cost the US a whole lot less to have someone pull this card out of the deck and use it against us and force us to leave than our continuing the war would. The wars will wreck the US economy, and most all of us here’s economic futures. But I don’t think we’ll be taught that necessary lesson on the battlefield; we’ll be taught it through bankruptcy. Nor can we learn the obvious lesson from this article—one that has been on display for a very long time to anyone who can do the arithmetic about US military expenditures—that war, as fought by the US in its current forces structures, is an economic disaster and impossibility. For that matter, so is maintaining the US military at its current level of expenditures. But we here are blind to that obvious fact, and we will suffer for it, and no one should have sympathy for us because of that fact.

    My congratulations to the author. Keep up the good work.

    Daniel N. White

  • The Pentagon responded to this article saying killing Taliban was not the primary goal of its Afghan war. Its primary goal is nation-building— which is expensive. So, if that’s the task, how much it is costing to build the crumbling roads and schools and corrupt judicial and administrative systems —how do you calculate that ROI, if you don’t want to count Talib casualties? Global media only writes about the deaths in Afghanistan and nothing else, so they think it’s an important number. I thought the Pentagon’s line was that we were there to disable terrorists and not to build an Afghan nation. When did that change? The Pentagon flip-flops with the best of them. They never make mistakes, they just change the rules.

  • One more calculation, based on your figures:

    TIME TO STAY : 35,000 Talibans / 2,000 Talibans killed per year = 17,5 years for the so called coalition to stay.

    Final price to pay : Please, calculate the annual costs multiplied by 17.5 years !!!

    Result : more pain, more suffering for the people of Afghanistan AND for that of all countries (I agree, only poor people of those countries)

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