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Seems like every other week we hear that Ukraine is getting some military aid. Or civilian aid.

The numbers are fairly consequent, often $1+ billion on the US side. Other NATO countries also chip in.

While it looks like a considerable commitment, I am wondering how it compares, at a total yearly spending level, to what was being spent in Afghanistan. Those numbers tended to be buried, at least for the US, in special budget allocations for the US Department of Defense.

Mostly interested in its heyday, around 2011, when the US had 100k troops in Afghanistan.

How do 6 months for Ukraine in 2022 compare to the 2011 "burn rate" in Afghanistan (around that year would have the highest for US-only numbers)?

For reference, in 2018, by which time military activity was winding down, with about 16K US troops, the yearly direct Pentagon cost was $45B for Afghanistan and it had balooned up to $100B/yr before:

The costs now are still significantly lower than during the high point of the war in Afghanistan. From 2010 to 2012, when the U.S. had as many as 100,000 soldiers in the country, the price for American taxpayers surpassed $100 billion each year. There are currently around 16,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Yes, I know that the Afghanistan mission was different in nature, not least because it involved sending in NATO combat troops. This is just about the budgetary impact (and yes, the Afghan numbers should include the cost of keeping NATO/US troops in-country).

Either the USA-only or the NATO numbers are of interest.

Also, leave out sanction costs, which would be a whole other can of worms, but also harder to reliably track.

p.s. if totaling up NATO, keep in mind that: the UK pulled out of combat roles in 2014, Canada did so in 2011 and pre-2008/9 US numbers may very include Iraq as well. A number of countries also had levels of engagement which varied over time. So combined peaks are tricky to figure out.

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  • It's probably tricky given that Afg numbers have been contested. If we go with the headline figure of $300 million/day for Afg (by US), the $40B to Ukraine so far is somewhat cheaper, but probably not so if you add all the EU stuff, including cost of sanctions on themselves. Afg aid and troop surge have also varied a lot of over time, so peak vs average may be quite diff.
    – Fizz
    Sep 3 at 13:48
  • Good question but I still wonder what insight is gained by comparing Ukraine with Afghanistan? What is the relation between both countries?
    – Trilarion
    Sep 4 at 6:05

2 Answers 2

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Right now, the Ukraine tracker by IFW Kiel puts the current aid commitments at 84 billion euros (military and civilian combined), so roughly the same sum in dollars, given the current exchange rate. (Approximately 45 billion of those are by the US.)

So for this year it's comparable to the $100bn/year you've quoted for Afghanistan, assuming you want to sum across "the West". (I haven't looked up European countries' monetary commitments to Afghanistan, but I assume they were much less than those of the US.) Although the current year is not yet over, the same source noted a substantial decrease in new pledges over the summer.

That doesn't include economic losses in the EU due to sanctions and (de facto) counter-sanctions by Russia on energy etc. Back in 2015, Spain claimed it had lost $20 billion in exports to Russia due to sanctions, but I'm not sure how "fact checked" that figure was. Another paper on that era calculated that "the cumulated export loss to Russia during 2014-2018 is estimated at EUR 30 billion (about -0.2% of EU’s GDP in 2018), again incurred largely during 2014-2016 as EU exports to Russia recovered in 2017". It's been rather hard to find any estimates like that for the current sanctions.

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  • seems like comparing commitments (to Ukraine) vs deliveries to Afghanistan is not an apples-to-apples comparison. Am I wrong? Are those irrevocable? Because it seems to me they are just spending authorizations that can be drawn down (or not) for future deliveries.
    – wrod
    Sep 7 at 1:54
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I just wanted to point out that you are making an apples to oranges (or maybe even apples to toothbrushes) comparison here that makes directly comparing dollar values fairly meaningless.

The vast majority of the cost of the Afghanistan war was cost for the US military. So this is money paid to US military staff for being stationed in Afghanistan and military hardware and military supplies both primarily supplied by US based companies. There is also a much smaller amount of money directly handed to the Afghani government or paid out as salary to Afghani citizen.

The vast majority of the aid cost of the Ukraine war is in the form of military hardware, again supplied from US or European arms makers. Again there is a much smaller amount of money given as cash to the Ukrainian government. Additionally there is an economic cost of the sanctions on Russia which is hard to measure exactly and a lot of spending for Ukrainian refugees who have left the Ukraine and which is also hard to measure directly.

One could meaningfully compare the amount of money given to the Afghani and the Ukrainian government but both these numbers are much smaller than the hundreds of billions mentioned in the question.

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    You may have a point, but as this answer currently stands, I don't think you have proven it. From the point of view of the US or European taxpayer, it may be sensible to compare the cost of different military operations, regardless of how exactly the money is spent.
    – Evargalo
    Sep 6 at 8:18
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    I asked how much money was going out in both cases. That's all. Your answer doesn't provide any numbers, only goes on about facts that we all know already: Yes, I know that the Afghanistan mission was different in nature, not least because it involved sending in NATO combat troops. Sep 6 at 16:32

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