Stunning advances by Taliban insurgents this summer amid an ongoing U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan threaten to unwind a fragile security structure built through years of military toil in a matter of weeks, raising renewed questions about the conflict’s cost.
From its start in 2001 through April 2021, the war in Afghanistan has cost U.S. taxpayers approximately $2.261 trillion, according to estimates earlier this year from the Costs of War Project at Brown University.
With the security situation in Afghanistan deteriorating just weeks before a vast majority of U.S. troops permanently withdraw from the country, Republican lawmakers are targeting President Biden, accusing his administration of mishandling the drawdown. Biden has argued the rapid withdrawal is necessary and called for an end to "the forever war" in Afghanistan.
Despite exorbitant costs in the effort to drive the Taliban from power and keeping them out, the Islamist group is now estimated to control more than two-thirds of Afghanistan’s territory after a series of victories over Afghan security forces.
The estimated tally includes $933 billion toward Department of Defense overseas contingency operations, $443 billion in war-related increases to the DoD’s base budget, $296 billion toward care for veterans of the war in Afghanistan and $59 billion in additional State Department funding. A further $530 billion is attributed to interest payments on war debt over the last two decades.
The U.S. government has spent more than $143 billion on reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, including $88 billion toward training and equipping Afghan security forces, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the Taliban was "on track to secure a significant military victory" unless Biden changes course.
Mike Rogers, R-AL, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, said Biden’s "haphazard withdrawal will be felt for decades."
"Weeks ago, President Biden promised the American people that we would not have a Saigon moment in Afghanistan – Now, we are watching President Biden’s Saigon moment unfold before us," he said.
As of Thursday, the Taliban has taken control of 12 of the country’s 34 provincial capitals, including Herat, its third-largest city, and possibly Kandahar, its second-largest. The Taliban’s advance prompted the Pentagon to dispatch troops to help evacuate Americans from the embassy in Kabul.
The Afghanistan withdrawal is a rare point of agreement between Biden and his political rival, former President Donald Trump. Trump initially set a May 2021 deadline to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan. Biden extended that deadline to later in the year, and the withdrawal began in May.
Biden has pledged to end the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan by Aug. 31, with a small force of roughly 650 troops slated to remain in the country to protect diplomats and assist with security at Kabul airport. When pressed earlier this week about the Taliban’s rapid advance amid the U.S. withdrawal, Biden said he did not regret his decision.
"Afghan leaders have to come together," Biden told reporters. "They've got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.