5,125 Casualties: Report Explores the 'Human Cost' of Afghanistan Reconstruction/Stabilization

By Susan Jones | February 11, 2020 | 9:49am EST
Building a bridge with the help of the German charity organisation Katachel. (Photo by plus49/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images)
Building a bridge with the help of the German charity organisation Katachel. (Photo by plus49/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) - Beyond the considerable financial cost of rebuilding and stabilizing Afghanistan is the human cost -- the 5,125 people either killed or wounded between April 2002 (President Bush's commitment to rebuild the country) and December 2018.

In a newly released report, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction "conservatively" counted 2,214 people killed and 2,921 wounded in that 16-year period. The IG also identified another 1,182 people who were kidnapped or went missing.

The majority of the 2,214 killed were Afghanis (1,578). But at least 284 were Americans -- 216 of them service members and 68 of them U.S. civilians (government employees, contractors, and those with unknown statuses).

An additional 245 U.S. service members and 76 U.S. civilians were wounded, well below the 2,246 Afghanis counted as wounded.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said the casualty figures (killed/wounded) do not include combat/counterterrorism missions; combat support missions; accidents, suicides, homicides, etc.

"For this review," the report said, "we counted a casualty as reconstruction or stabilization related if: (1) the casualty’s primary mission at the time was specifically related to conducting reconstruction or stabilization activities. Examples include service members and civilians deployed to train Afghan National Defense Security Forces, USAID employees or contractors, and local nationals working on road construction projects or election activities; or, (2) the casualty was a bystander at the site of these activities."

SIGAR said reconstruction activities include all direct or indirect U.S. government assistance to rebuild Afghanistan other than combat operations. Stabilization activities involve the establishment of political or societal institutions in Afghanistan as well as the provision of products or services to the Afghan people.

SIGAR noted that for many years, it has spent considerable effort to track the financial costs of reconstruction and stabilization activities in Afghanistan:

"However, little effort has been made up to now to track the human costs –- the number of people killed, wounded, or kidnapped –- to accomplish these activities. This has left policy makers with an incomplete picture of the true cost of our efforts in Afghanistan. This report is, as far as we know, the first official government effort by an independent Inspector General to do so."

Road construction projects were the most dangerous reconstruction activity overall, accounting for 30 percent (1,527) of all casualties.

The most dangerous activity for Americans was security-related -- training, mentoring or providing force protection to Afghan defense forces. Of the 346 people killed in this category, 195 were Americans (154 U.S. service members and 41 U.S. civilians).

SIGAR said it identified a total of 276 casualties associated with insider attacks related to reconstruction or stabilization.

The report offers a complete breakout of casualty data by category and nationality.

SIGAR concludes: "While considerable effort is made to track the amount of U.S. dollars spent, this review shows that we do not adequately capture the human cost of conducting reconstruction and stabilization projects while combat operations are still ongoing, especially third country nationals and Afghans.  Unless the U.S. Government considers the human costs, the true costs of reconstruction and stabilization efforts in Afghanistan are not accurately captured. "

A separate SIGAR report issued last month notes: "The United States alone provides more than $4 billion a year for reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan -- not including the costs of U.S. military operations there.

"Since Fiscal Year (FY) 2002, the U.S. Congress has appropriated nearly $137 billion for Afghanistan reconstruction. Yet, as SIGAR has long noted in its quarterly reports to Congress...corruption remains a major problem."


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