"AfPak" Anniversary: 11 Years Gone, 128,000 Dead, Millions Displaced

Afghans walk in a road in Kabul, Afghanistan, Manday, Jan, 2, 2012. (AP Photo/Ahmad Jamshid)
Afghans walk in a road in Kabul, Afghanistan, Manday, Jan, 2, 2012. (AP Photo/Ahmad Jamshid)

Since the initial invasion of Afghanistan 11 years ago this month, more than 128,000 people have died in Afghanistan and Pakistan in direct war-related violence. Indirect deaths, due to the destruction of infrastructure and lost access to food or health care, may number several times that. The toll in amputations and other injuries is also large, if poorly documented.

Our media focus on the U.S. and allied soldiers who continue to die in Afghanistan. Indeed, more than 2,000 U.S. soldiers, 1,000 NATO ISAF allied troops, and 1,250 U.S. contractors have been killed. Thousands more are visibly and invisibly wounded. Suicide rates among active duty and returned soldiers remain above the national average, as does the unemployment rate of veterans.

But the picture is much worse for the Afghans and Pakistanis. After 11 years, although there have been some gains in health care and education, the picture in Afghanistan is of a nation devastated. All told, between 43,000 to 55,000 Afghans -- almost half of them civilians and many children -- have died. As a result of three decades of war, more than 500,000 are displaced from their original homes and lives, according to the UN High Commission on Refugees. Some 135,000 were newly displaced this year alone. Unsurprisingly, the mental health of many Afghan people, though resilient after years of war, is precarious.

In Pakistan the U.S. has conducted more than 300 drone strikes, killing at least 2,500 people, many of them civilians, some of them militant leaders. The secrecy of the targeted killing program, conducted on questionable legal grounds, has arguably also impoverished our own democracy. Many have accepted without question the incorrect assertion that the attacks are "precision" or "surgical" strikes with few consequences for civilians or U.S. credibility.

Much more devastating is the proxy war the U.S. has waged with and through Pakistan's military against militants there. Conducted with new U.S. equipment, training, and funding, the Pakistani military's war against militants has escalated dramatically since 2004. In some years, the fighting has been much more intense in Pakistan than in Afghanistan. While suicide attacks have recently decreased, they are still frequent. Further, while NATO supply convoys through Pakistan to Afghanistan provide food and fuel for soldiers, they have also provided targets for hundreds of insurgent attacks over the past several years.

Counting all Pakistani people who have been killed -- civilians, militants, and military forces -- by all parties since 2001 is difficult in this murky environment, where most press are banned from the areas of intense fighting. We estimate it to be between 44,500 and 73,000. The UNHCR documents about 500,000 Pakistanis living outside their homes or on the move.

Although Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other militant groups are very unpopular, the view of U.S. policies is even less favorable. U.S. support enables the Pakistani government to substitute war for democratization and development, a recipe for an even longer war.

In mid-September, Secretary of Defense Panetta announced that the United States had returned to pre-surge troop levels in Afghanistan. The current plan is to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan in 2014, but there is no plan to halt military assistance to Pakistan or U.S. drone strikes there.

Yet, as the headlines attest, the war continues to rage, and in some ways, it has escalated. So, while "AfPak" trips off the tongues of those in the know much less frequently, this remains one big war. Indeed, withdrawal from Afghanistan will likely leave a war in place in Pakistan. Perhaps someone will ask President Obama and Governor Romney at their debates to describe how they would like to end both parts of this war.

As Many as 128,500 Total Direct Deaths in the "AfPak" War, 2001-2012*

*Direct deaths are caused by violence. Indirect deaths, not included here, are those caused by loss of access to food, water and infrastructure.

Neta C. Crawford is a professor of Political Science at Boston University. Catherine Lutz is Thomas J. Watson, Jr. Family Professor of Anthropology and International Studies at Brown University's Watson Institute. They are co-directors of the costsofwar.org project.

Afghanistan Pakistan US Military 2,130 US Contractors 1,263 21 National Military and Police 8,665 4,650 NATO ISAF Troops 1,065 Civilians 15,500 - 17,400 14,780 - 43,150 Military, Insurgents/Militants 15,000 - 25,000 25,000 Journalists and Media Workers 25 54 Humanitarian/NGO workers 209 49 Total Killed 43,858 - 55,758 44,554-72,924