TOPSHOT - A US military helicopter is pictured flying above the US embassy in Kabul on August 15, 2021. (Photo by Wakil KOHSAR / AFP) (Photo by WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images)

The Taliban has effectively taken power in Afghanistan after insurgents captured Kabul, the capital city, yesterday. President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, and American diplomats and Afghan civilians were scrambling to get out as conditions rapidly deteriorated around the airport.

The US government said it’s deploying nearly 6,000 troops to facilitate evacuations via military and civilian flights over the next two days.

Big picture: Since the US invasion in 2001, more than 47,000 Afghan civilians and nearly 2,500 US troops have died in the conflict.

The war has also cost the US an astronomical sum—$2.26 trillion to be exact, according to the Brown University Costs of War project.

  • That includes $815.7 billion in direct war-fighting costs and $143 billion for nation-building, including infrastructure projects and training Afghan military forces.

But instead of raising money through war bonds or raising taxes as it has for previous wars, the US paid for its post-9/11 military actions through general government revenue, which means it needed to borrow heavily. The government has already forked over roughly $530 billion in interest, and total debt payments are estimated to balloon to $6.5 trillion by 2050, according to the Costs of War project.

What is there to show for it?

Very little. The Afghan poverty rate increased to 47% in 2020, up from 36% in 2007 when World Bank records began. Schools, hospitals, and dams built by Americans have been largely ineffective. The US-trained Afghan military was easily overwhelmed by the Taliban’s advance in a matter of weeks.

  • A few noticeable improvements in Afghanistan over the past two decades include increased life expectancy (56 years → 64) and a jump in the literacy rate (rising 8%, to 43%).

Looking ahead…the costs outlined here are really just the tip of the iceberg. For example, the US will need to continue to provide care for veterans wounded in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars for decades to come. That expense, which will total more than $2 trillion, is not expected to peak until after 2048, according to Linda Bilmes of Harvard University’s Kennedy School.

+ Further reading: How America failed in Afghanistan and who are the Taliban?