Chart of the day: The human cost behind the Afghanistan war
Updated 16:23, 02-May-2021
By Pan Zhaoyi

It has been twenty years since the U.S. government launched "Operation Enduring Freedom" in 2001 targeting the then Taliban government for harboring Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind behind 9/11 attacks; and it has been ten years since the terror group head was killed in a U.S. airstrike on May 2, 2011.

U.S. President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday "it's time to end America's longest war," while saying that he'll withdraw troops from Afghanistan by September 11, pushing back the May 1 deadline agreed by former President Donald Trump.

Human cost

Over the past two decades, the U.S. and its NATO allies have deployed over hundreds of thousands of troops in Afghanistan. At its height, there were 98,000 U.S. troops and more than 130,000 from 50 NATO and partner nations in the country, the defense department data shows.

There are also significant numbers of private security contractors working for the U.S. in Afghanistan. By the end of 2020, more than 7,800 U.S. citizens have been recruited as private contractors, according to U.S. Congress research.

The war against the Taliban has cost the lives of 2,448 American service members and over 2,872 coalition troops and private contractors. 

The number of Afghan troop fatalities, on the other hand, is much higher. The death toll is estimated to have reached over 71,800 since 2007, according to data released by Brookings, a U.S.-based think tank.

However, what is more staggering is the number of civilian deaths and injuries during the Afghanistan war. The United Nations (UN) report noted that about 42,200 Afghan civilians were killed since 2007, with 43 percent of the them being women and children, while the number of injuries is almost double.

The country remains amongst the "deadliest places in the world to be a civilian," according to Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Millions of refugees have been displaced by America's war on terror. 

"This has been one of the major forms of damage, of course along with the deaths and injuries, that have been caused by these wars," said David Vine, a professor of anthropology at American University when the report on refugee numbers was released in 2020.

"It tells us that U.S. involvement in these countries has been horrifically catastrophic, horrifically damaging in ways that I don't think that most people in the United States, in many ways myself included, have grappled with or reckoned with in even the slightest terms," Vine said.

Although the U.S. is not the sole cause for all the refugees in the country, however the report did conclude that it has played either a dominant or contributing role in these conflicts.

"I am now the fourth American president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans, two Democrats," Biden said on Wednesday. "I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth."

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani responded by tweeting that they will work with the U.S. to ensure a smooth transition and in the ongoing peace efforts.

(Graphics by Yin Yating)

Search Trends