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Cost of U.S. Wars Since 9/11? At least $3.7 Trillion, Study Finds

Quarter million people dead; 7.8 million displaced

US Marine Sergent John Cox of 1st Combat
Interactives: Afghanistan war timeline; Al-Qaida timeline; The cost of war

June 29, 2011

NEW YORK — When President Barack Obama cited cost as a reason to bring troops home from Afghanistan, he referred to a $1 trillion price tag for America’s wars.

Staggering as it is, that figure grossly underestimates the total cost of wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to the U.S. Treasury and ignores more imposing costs yet to come, according to a study released Wednesday.

The final bill will reach at least $3.7 trillion and could be as high as $4.4 trillion, according to the research project “Costs of War” by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies.

In the 10 years since U.S. troops went into Afghanistan to root out the al-Qaida leaders behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, spending on the conflicts totaled $2.3 trillion to $2.7 trillion.

Those numbers will continue to soar when considering often overlooked costs such as long-term obligations to wounded veterans and projected war spending from 2012 through 2020.

The estimates do not include at least $1 trillion more in interest payments coming due and many billions more in expenses that cannot be counted, according to the study.

In human terms, 224,000 to 258,000 people have died directly from warfare, including 125,000 civilians in Iraq.

Many more have died indirectly, from the loss of clean drinking water, healthcare, and nutrition. An additional 365,000 have been wounded and 7.8 million people — equal to the combined population of Connecticut and Kentucky — have been displaced.

“Costs of War” brought together more than 20 academics to uncover the expense of war in lives and dollars, a daunting task given the inconsistent recording of lives lost and what the report called opaque and sloppy accounting by the U.S. Congress and the Pentagon.

The report underlines the extent to which war will continue to stretch the U.S. federal budget, which is already on an unsustainable course due to an aging American population and skyrocketing healthcare costs.

It also raises the question of what the United States gained from its multi-trillion-dollar investment. …

In one sense, the report measures the cost of 9/11, the American shorthand for the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

Nineteen hijackers plus other al-Qaida plotters spent an estimated $400,000 to $500,000 on the plane attacks that killed 2,995 people and caused $50 billion to $100 billion in economic damages.

What followed were three wars in which $50 billion amounts to a rounding error. For every person killed on Sept. 11, another 73 have been killed since. …

The report arrives as Congress debates how to cut a U.S. deficit projected at $1.4 trillion this year, roughly a 10th of which can be attributed to direct war spending. …

Was it worth it?

What did the United States gain for its trillions?

Strategically, the results for the United States are mixed.

Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein are dead, but Iraq and Afghanistan are far from stable democracies. Iran has gained influence in the Gulf, and the Taliban, though ousted from government, remain a viable military force in Afghanistan. …

Some U.S. government reports have attempted to assess the costs of war, notably a March 2011 Congressional Research Service report that estimated post-Sept. 11 war funding at $1.4 trillion through 2012.

The Congressional Budget Office projected war costs through 2021 at $1.8 trillion.

A ground-breaking private estimate was published in the 2008 book “The Three Trillion Dollar War,” by Linda Bilmes, a member of the Watson Institute team, and Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz.

That work revealed how much cost was added by interest on deficit spending and medical care for veterans. …

If the financial costs are elusive, so too is the human toll.

The report estimates between 224,475 and 257,655 have been killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, though those numbers give a false sense of precision. There are many sources of data on civilian deaths, most with different results.

The civilian death toll in Iraq — 125,000 — and the number of Saddam’s security forces killed in the invasion — 10,000 — are loose estimates. The U.S. military does not publish a thorough accounting.

“We don’t do body counts,” Tommy Franks, the U.S. commander in Iraq, famously said after the fall of Saddam in 2003.

In Afghanistan, the civilian death count ranges from 11,700 to 13,900.

For Pakistan, where there is little access to the battlefield and the United States fights mostly through aerial drone attacks, the study found it impossible to distinguish between civilian and insurgent deaths.

The numbers only consider direct deaths — people killed by bombs or bullets. Estimates for indirect deaths in war vary so much that researchers considered them too arbitrary to report. …

Full story


Related report

New estimate of U.S. war costs: $4 trillion (Jason Ukman, Checkpoint Washington, Washington Post, June 29, 2011) — A new study has concluded that U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan has cost up to $4 trillion over the past decade. The study, by the nonpartisan Eisenhower Research Project based at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies, also estimates that at least 225,000 people, including civilians, troops and insurgents, have died as a result of the conflicts. Of that number, an estimated 6,000 were uniformed U.S. military personnel. … Full story


3/30/2013 Update

Iraq, Afghan Wars Will Cost $4 trillion to $6 trillion, Harvard Study Says

By Ernesto Londoño

March 29, 2013

The U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will cost taxpayers $4 trillion to $6 trillion, taking into account the medical care of wounded veterans and expensive repairs to a force depleted by more than a decade of fighting, according to a new study by a Harvard researcher.

Washington increased military benefits in late 2001 as the nation went to war, seeking to quickly bolster its talent pool and expand its ranks. Those decisions and the protracted nation-building efforts launched in both countries will generate expenses for years to come, Linda J. Bilmes, a public policy professor, wrote in the report that was released Thursday [March 28, 2013].

“As a consequence of these wartime spending choices, the United States will face constraints in funding investments in personnel and diplomacy, research and development and new military initiatives,” the report says. “The legacy of decisions taken during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will dominate future federal budgets for decades to come.”

Bilmes said the United States has spent almost $2 trillion already for the military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. Those costs, she said, are only a fraction of the ultimate price tag. The biggest ongoing expense will be providing medical care and disability benefits to veterans of the two conflicts. …

Spending borrowed money to pay for the wars has also made them more expensive, the study noted. The conflicts have added $2 trillion to America’s debt, representing roughly 20 percent of the debt incurred between 2001 and 2012.

Bilmes’s estimate provides a higher range than another authoritative study on the same issue by Brown University’s Eisenhower Research Project. Brown researchers put the price tag at roughly $4 trillion.

Both figures are dramatically higher than what U.S. officials projected they would spend when they were planning to go to war in Iraq. Stephen Friedman, a senior White House official, left government in 2002 after irking his colleagues by publicly estimating that the Iraq war could end up costing up to $200 billion. …

Full story


Related links

Costs of War

Click on image for larger display

The Financial Legacy of Iraq and Afghanistan: How Wartime Spending Decisions Will Constrain Future National Security Budgets (Harvard Kennedy School Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP13-006, March 2013, by Linda J. Bilmes)

Abstract: The Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, taken together, will be the most expensive wars in US history — totaling somewhere between $4 to $6 trillion. This includes long-term medical care and disability compensation for service members, veterans and families, military replenishment and social and economic costs. The largest portion of that bill is yet to be paid. Since 2001, the US has expanded the quality, quantity, availability and eligibility of benefits for military personnel and veterans. This has led to unprecedented growth in the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense budgets. These benefits will increase further over the next 40 years. Additional funds are committed to replacing large quantities of basic equipment used in the wars and to support ongoing diplomatic presence and military assistance in the Iraq and Afghanistan region. The large sums borrowed to finance operations in Iraq and Afghanistan will also impose substantial long-term debt servicing costs. As a consequence of these wartime spending choices, the United States will face constraints in funding investments in personnel and diplomacy, research and development and new military initiatives. The legacy of decisions taken during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will dominate future federal budgets for decades to come.


Related reports on this site

Senseless Waste of U.S. Taxpayer Dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan (Aug. 31, 2011)

U.S. Taxpayers Help Fund Killing of U.S. Troops in Afghanistan (Aug. 17, 2011)

Another War Like Iraq ‘Nuts’ (Feb. 26, 2011)

Breathtaking Afghan Corruption (Dec. 2, 2010)

Afghanistan War Cost Too High (Nov. 13, 2010)

Colossal Taxpayer Waste in Iraq (Aug. 29, 2010)

Afghan Price Tag Equals Health Care Cost (Dec. 7, 2009)

Iraq Projects Down the Tubes (Nov. 21, 2009)

Quarter Million Dead, Wounded in Iraq (Oct. 14, 2009)

Iraqi Neglect Costs U.S. Taxpayers (April 29, 2009)

Trillion-Dollar Wars Since 9/11 (March 30, 2009)

Feds Widen Iraq Corruption Probe (Feb. 15, 2009)

Iraq Rebuilding ‘$100 Billion Failure’ (Dec. 14, 2008)

Iraq: Intelligence and Policy Failure (Dec. 10, 2008)

Billions Lost on Reconstruction Projects in Iraq (July 28, 2008)


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — June 29, 2010

Iraq-Afghanistan Casualties

One year ago today, I provided my weekly report of U.S. military deaths in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Army Spc. Russell E. Madden, 29, Dayton, Ky., died June 23, 2010 at Forward Operating Base Shank, Charkh district, Logar province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his vehicle with a rocket-propelled grenade. He was assigned to the 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Conn Barracks, Germany.

The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that a stretch of Memorial Parkway in Bellevue, Ky., was dedicated in honor of Spc. Madden on May 31, 2010.

Former Bellevue High School football coach Charlie Coleman remembered that during his sophomore year Russell Madden volunteered to give up his position as quarterback so another talented young player could take his place. Madden played running back, linebacker, kicker, and punt returner until he graduated in 2000. The football team went 22-3 in Madden’s last two years at the school.

“He was someone very unselfish,” Coleman said. “To be your high school quarterback and willingly give up that position to go play another position to make the team better. That is how I remember Russell Madden.”

Russell Madden also volunteered on the track team to run hurdles when a runner suffered an injury. He placed sixth in the state in the event.

“I don’t say this because of unbelievable physical ability,” his father, Martin Madden, said. “I say that because that was his heart. His heart was, ‘Guys, I will not let you down. We will get there.’ This is the same thing the soldiers in his platoon told me. If ever there was going to be a problem, they wanted to be with Russell because they knew he would never let them down. If they got in a jam, he would always be the one to make sure they were taken care of. That was him. That was who he was.”

Russell Madden leaves behind his wife, Michelle; son, Parker, 5; and stepson, Jared Pulsfort, 12.


FROM THE ARCHIVES: Two Years Ago — June 29, 2009

U.S. Forces Pull Back in Iraq

Fireworks light up the night sky above Baghdad on Monday, June 29, 2009 as U.S. troops left Iraqi cities in the first step toward winding down the American war effort by the end of 2011. (Photo credit: Khalid Mohammed / AP)

Two years ago today, on June 29, 2009, I reported that the security situation in Iraq remained fragile and uncertain as the U.S. handed over security to Iraqi forces in accordance with the Bush administration’s status-of-forces agreement with Iraq.

10 Responses to “Neverending U.S. War Price Tag Hits $4 Trillion”
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