How Many U.S. Soldiers Died in Afghanistan?

The U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan has been America's longest war. After two decades and the loss of tens of thousands of lives, many may view its legacy as nothing more than a foreign policy embarrassment.

The U.S. first entered the conflict under then-president George W. Bush in 2001, just weeks after the Al-Qaeda September 11 attacks that prompted the "War on Terror".

Almost 20 years and several administrations later, the goal to pacify Afghanistan and build a democratic and civil society is still not in sight. On Sunday, August 15, militants poured into the capital, Kabul, as President Ashraf Ghani fled the country and the government effectively collapsed. Taliban rule, it seems, is back.

Afghanistan soldiers
U.S. Marines with the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, RCT 2nd Battalion 8th Marines Echo Co. step off in the early morning during an operation to push out Taliban fighters on July 18, 2009 in Herati, Afghanistan. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Since the start of U.S. military operations through to April this year, 2,448 American service members have been killed in Afghanistan, according to data from Linda Bilmes of Harvard University's Kennedy School and the Brown University Costs of War project, as reported by the Associated Press. An additional 3,846 U.S. contractors also lost their lives.

The U.S. Department of Defense Casualty Status report records - as of August 9 this year - a similar number of deaths among American service members at 2,218, but only includes casualties that occurred in Afghanistan between October 7, 2001, and December 31, 2014.

Because between 2003 and 2011 the United States fought the Afghanistan and Iraq wars simultaneously, and many American troops served tours in both wars, some figures as noted by AP cover both post-9/11 U.S. wars.

More than 20,000 soldiers were wounded from the conflict, many of whom now live with permanent disabilities, according to the U.S. Department of Defense Casualty Status report.

These figures of course pale in comparison to the 66,000 Afghan national military lives lost or the 47,245 Afghan civilians. A further 51,191 Taliban and other opposition fighters were also reported to have been killed.

The decision to withdraw from Afghanistan was first made under the administration of former President Donald Trump. However, the withdrawal was initiated under Biden. In April, President Biden ordered a full withdrawal by September 11—the 20th anniversary of the Al-Qaeda attacks on the U.S. In July, Biden updated the deadline for withdrawal of America's 3,000 or so troops to August 31.

Amid this political backdrop and over the space of a week, the Taliban made swift and calculated gains across the country, securing the capital city Kabul on Sunday and forcing U.S. Embassy staff to evacuate in a takeover that left U.S. officials stunned.

Biden is the third U.S. president—along with former President Barack Obama and former President Donald Trump—to order a full withdrawal from Afghanistan.

In fact, in the same month Biden announced the decision to withdraw all U.S. troops, the majority (58 percent) of Americans said they approved of the decision according to an Economist survey conducted by YouGov.

In recent days, the Biden administration has sought to address critics and frame ending the conflict as a decision that Biden made after concluding it was an "unwinnable war" and one that "does not have a military solution."

"How many more, how many more thousands of American daughters and sons are you willing to risk?" Biden said to those calling for the United States to extend the military operation. He added, "I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan, with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different outcome."

Afghanistan war
A Landing Force Support Party made up of 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit Marines, head toward an undisclosed location in support of Operation Enduring Freedom December 3, 2001 inside Afghanistan. David C. Mercil/Getty Images