The Cost of Afghanistan
BY PATRICK GRIFFTH
The U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan, lasting almost 20 years, is America’s longest war. Although not top of mind with many Americans, its death toll weighs in the many tens of thousands. In addition, because the US borrowed most of the money to pay for it, generations of Americans will be burdened by the cost of paying it off.
Since the war against the Taliban began in 2001, there have been more than 3,500 coalition deaths, of which more than 2,300 have been US soldiers. A further 20,660 have been injured in action.
These official numbers don’t include the many troops who return home and die by suicide as a result of psychological wounds such as PTSD. Over 30,177 service members and veterans of the post-9/11 wars have died by suicide – more than four times as many as have died in combat.
Some soldiers deployed in Afghanistan identify with Vietnam War veterans who were mistreated when they returned home and who felt forgotten. They feel like history is repeating itself, with the US making the same mistakes.
America’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s rapid takeover this month has left many veterans feeling outraged and discouraged. Mental health professionals working with veterans are urging them to talk about their feelings and seek help if they need it.
“The most important thing right now for all of us who are not veterans is to be ready to listen and to not assume we know what they are feeling or how they are feeling about things,” said Sheila Rauch, director of mental health research and program evaluation for the Atlanta VA Health Care System.
Burke Garrett, a retired Army lieutenant general who led a brigade of US troops in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2004, wants veterans to keep in mind their fellow Americans are very proud of them and all who have sacrificed.
“You served honorably and courageously to bring peace to the people of Afghanistan,” said Garrett, executive advisor to the Emory Healthcare Veterans Program. “Take pride in your service, knowing that you kept our nation safe and made a positive impact, even with what is happening now.”
As veterans, we must remember the positive things we’ve accomplished in Afghanistan, including destroying the enemy’s roadside bombs, building public infrastructure, and making it safe for kids to return to school.
We must remember it wasn’t for naught.
If you’re struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide, please know that you are not alone.
Contact the Veterans Crisis Line to reach caring, qualified responders with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Many of them are veterans themselves.
Call 800.273.8255 or text 838255. This free support is confidential and available 24/7.
If you or any veteran, their family, or caregiver are in need of other support, please fill out this form to be connected with America’s Warrior Partnership’s The Network.