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April 19, 2021, 1:39 p.m. EDT

America is getting out of Afghanistan after two decades. Threats today come from within the U.S.

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By Paul Brandus

Those of us who saw the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, still recall with vivid clarity the sights, sounds and emotions of that awful morning. It has never gone away. Perhaps this is so as well for the tens of millions who saw it on TV. 

But it is time to put it, and what it led to, behind us. By “led to,” I’m referring to the war that the United States has waged in Afghanistan since Oct. 7, 2001. 

Consider this. The terrorists spent at most $500,000 to attack New York and Washington. Half-a-million dollars. In contrast, the U.S government decided that the best way to defend itself post-9/11 was to reorganize the federal government, including creating a sprawling Cabinet-level agency, the Department of Homeland Security. Its budget this year is $49.8 billion. 

High cost of war

But the hundreds of billions of dollars DHS has cost over the years pales in comparison to the actual cost of the Afghan war.

Here’s a breakdown of the biggest items :  

  • $1.5 trillion for the actual war

  • $500 billion in interest (the war has been fought with borrowed money)

  • $87 billion to train Afghan military and police forces 

  • $30 billion for reconstruction programs

  • $24 billion for economic development 

  • $10 billion on counternarcotics 

That’s $2.15 trillion. But I haven’t added a huge future expenditure: perhaps $1 trillion more, which analysts say will be needed to take care of our veterans through 2059. About half of that is for vets who served in Afghanistan, and the rest Iraq and elsewhere. This is difficult to quantify because many veterans — to whom we owe gratitude and respect — served in several combat zones during multiple deployments over many years.     

So much blood, treasure and time gone, all because of 19 terrorists, half-a-million dollars and a few hours two decades ago.

And for all that, this question: Do you feel safer? 

New threats

For most of our history, the buffer of two vast oceans to our east and west and two benign neighbors to our north and south kept us safe. But nuclear-tipped missiles rendered that meaningless decades ago, and cyber attacks, which occur daily, are a clear and present danger and render borders irrelevant.  

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