01 July 2014

The Value of a Life

Tracking taliban twitter feeds can be illuminating. Groupthink is a very real danger, and I often get optimistic-- overly so, perhaps-- about the degree to which Afghans support democracy. So enemy chatter can be a healthy balast against listing towards one way of thinking.

When I came across this picture in one of the feeds and it made me a little angry. I'm sure it was designed as anti-Western propaganda. The underdog factor has is a powerful one.

But what does the photo really say?

The US routinely spends around $60,000 on a single Hellfire to kill an insurgent fighter. Yes, "insurgent" in the singular. It is not uncommon to fire multiple Hellfires at a single bad guy, plus the rounds of rockets and 30mm gunfire. Plus the cost of getting aircraft in the air-- fuel, pilots, and the support staff to monitor and approve air strikes.

It might cost the US $200,000 to kill an insurgent, and that figure is probably conservative.

On the flip side, we spend much more than the graphic indicates on protecting our Soldiers. For starters, the NATO Soldier pictured doesn't have a combat helmet, eye protection, or night vision equipment, which gets you into four figures easily. Add in the cost of all the military activities meant to give them advantage, like birds in the air, eyes in the sky, and quick reaction forces on standby. We insure our Soldiers' lives monetarily, and spend untold monies on providing adequate lifelong medical care.

The caption that accompanied the graphic asked the rhetorical question, "what will hitorians say about this war?"

Well it seems clear to me. They'll say that, while the Taliban often fought doggedly against heavy odds, they simply didn't value the lives of their fighters like the West did. Looks like the Taliban puts the value of a life at just north of 500 bucks.

And that probably summarizes well why we fight. Thes West values the lives of individuals, and a more tolerant government in Afghanistan would too. 

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