President Biden has declared that it’s time to “end America’s longest war” and he announced that 2,500 U.S. troops and a further 7,000 soldiers from NATO allies would return home starting in May with the withdrawal expected to be completed by the 20th anniversary of 9/11. “I am now the fourth American president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans. Two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth,” Biden said in a White House speech. In the nearly two decades that the war has raged, it has consumed $2 trillion dollars and cost 110,000 Afghan lives. 3,500 coalition service members have also died in the conflict, including approximately 2,400 Americans.
The decision to withdraw is pivotal for Afghanistan and it could either accelerate the drive towards peace or plunge the country into further chaos and uncertainty. When asked by a reporter if the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan was a difficult one, Biden said it was not. “To me, it was absolutely clear”, Biden said. He added that “we went for two reasons: to get rid of bin Laden and to end the safe haven. I never thought we were there to somehow unify Afghanistan. It’s never been done.” So how does the length of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan compare to America’s other major foreign wars?
Defining what constitutes a military conflict is not straightforward with large wars, interventions, occupations and the suppression of minor insurgencies all overlapping down through the years. The Washington Post took those factors into account when it put an overview of the length of U.S. involvement in major foreign wars together back in 2014. Afghanistan is the longest war in American history by a considerable distance, outlasting the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II and the Korean War combined. It has also gone on for nearly twice the length of time as the country’s previous longest war, Vietnam. The brutal reality of the drawn-out conflict in Afghanistan is evident by the fact that some of the U.S. troops currently serving there were not even born when the war started.
*Click below to enlarge (charted by Statista)