Michael Nasuti of Kabul Press recently published an article in which he calculated that killing each Taliban soldier in Afghanistan costs on average of $50 million to the US. The article, seemingly carefully researched with all assumptions laid out so that anyone can examine them, is well worth reading. Nasuti, “Killing Each Taliban Soldier Costs $50 million.”
He points out that at this rate, killing the entire Taliban forces (only 35,000) would cost $1.7 trillion, not a small amount for a country suffering from a severe economic downturn to spend on a war with no apparent purpose. And Nasuti’s number, of course, assumes that they could not be replaced faster than they are killed, but it appears that they can — easily.
Nasuti, who actually uses a “conservative” number (assuming that he has under-counted the number of Taliban casualties by one half), states that he had previously served “at a senior level” in the United States Air Force. He says:
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 … The ponderous American war machine is a logistics nightmare and a maintenance train wreck.
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.
But Nasuti’s cost estimates are only the beginning. Afghanistan had until recently the highest fertility rate in the world (7.5, now down to 7.1) and its population doubles roughly every 20 years even under the stress of war. At a current population of 34 million, gaining by 800,000/yr, it can lose in order of magnitude 400,000 men per year more than it is presently losing to war without net population loss. That, using Nasuti’s figures, would be at a cost to the US of $20 trillion/yr to stay even, when we have a GDP of about $12 trillion. And there is no apparent reason why the Taliban could not go on in perpetuity suffering losses of 2000/yr (Nasuti’s estimate of the true numbers), or many times that, because 2000 is only approximately half of one percent of the numbers of available men each year without population loss.
Of course, all that is assuming that the Taliban can recruit within Afghanistan as its men are lost. Clearly at least the numbers are there, however, because of Afghanistan’s extraordinary rate of population growth.
In the understatement of the year, Mr. Nasuti suggests, “A public discussion should be taking place in the United States regarding whether the Taliban have become too expensive an enemy to defeat.”
Any bets on whether we’ll win this one (assuming anyone can explain what “winning this one” means) without changing our strategy?