Reconstruction and stabilization activities in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2018 resulted in thousands of casualties — including hundreds of American deaths — a new watchdog report found.
“Unless the U.S. Government considers the human costs, the true costs of reconstruction and stabilization efforts in Afghanistan are not accurately captured,” a new report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said.
According to the report’s findings, at least 216 U.S. troops and 68 U.S. civilians serving as government employees of contractors died in Afghanistan. Separately, another 245 U.S. service members and 76 U.S. civilians were wounded due to these missions.
Within reconstruction and stabilization efforts, security activities were the most risky missions for Americans, the report said. Security-related tasks, defined as those where U.S. service members were charged with training Afghan National Defense and Security Forces members or serving as their force protection, resulted in the deaths of 154 U.S. troops and 41 U.S. civilians.
Those numbers account for the 59 service members who died in insider attacks stemming from reconstruction or stabilization efforts. Specifically, the report cited an insider attack from 2011 where an Afghan Air Force Col. Ahmed Gul killed eight U.S. airmen and an American contractor in Kabul.
SIGAR also identified 131 Afghan National Defense and Security Forces members who died from reconstruction and stabilization activities, in most cases while administering force protection at project sites or reconstruction convoys.
Among Afghan civilians, casualty numbers soared to 1,447 deaths and 2,008 injuries. Additionally, more than 1,000 Afghan civilians were kidnapped during reconstruction and stabilization missions.
Altogether, the report “conservatively” tracked 5,135 casualties in Afghanistan derived from reconstruction and stabilization activities: 2,214 deaths and 2,921 injuries.
SIGAR, which believes its report is the first of its kind, was motivated to examine the human toll of reconstruction and stabilization efforts because most research has ignored the personal contributions and instead, focused on financial contributions.
“While considerable effort is made to track the amount of U.S. dollars spent on Afghanistan’s reconstruction, this review shows that there is not adequate effort to capture the human cost of conducting reconstruction and stabilization projects while combat operations are still ongoing, especially in regards to third country nationals and Afghans,” SIGAR said in the report.
Due to lack of information, the report said policy makers have been provided “an incomplete picture of the true cost of our efforts in Afghanistan.”
Casualties did not take into account those from combat and counter-terrorism missions, nor did it factor in casualties from natural causes or accidents. Additionally, casualties related to reconstruction and stabilization activities were only tallied if the individual’s primary responsibility fell under those categories, or if the individual was a “bystander” at those locations.
Approximately 13,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan, although that number may go down to 8,600 regardless of whether a peace deal with the Taliban materializes or not, according to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.
There have been more than 2,400 U.S. military deaths since the U.S. military got involved in Afghanistan in 2001. Casualties in the SIGAR report were only measured between April 17, 2002 to December 31, 2018, and were based on information from the Pentagon, State Department, Labor Department, among other sources.