How much will our wars cost? Report says $4 trillion
By Liz Goodwin
National Affairs Reporter
Picture: Afghan National Army tanks: U.S. Navy
A new report out of Brown University estimates that the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq–together with the counterinsurgency efforts in Pakistan–will, all told, cost $4 trillion and leave 225,000 dead, both civilians and soldiers.
The group of economists, anthropologists, lawyers, humanitarian personnel, and political scientists involved in the project estimated that the cost of caring for the veterans injured in the wars will reach $1 trillion in 30 or 40 years. In estimating the $4 trillion total, they did not take into account the $5.3 billion in reconstruction spending the government has promised Afghanistan, state and local contributions to veteran care, interest payments on war debt, or the costs of Medicare for veterans when they reach 65.
The Congressional Budget Office, meanwhile, has assessed the federal price tag for the wars at $1.8 trillion through 2021. The report says that is a gross underestimate, predicting that the government has already paid $2.3 trillion to $2.7 trillion.
More than 6,000 U.S. troops and 2,300 contractors have died since the wars began after Sept. 11. A staggering 550,000 disability claims have been filed with the VA as of 2010. Meanwhile, 137,000 civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq have died in the conflict. (Injuries among U.S. contractors have also not yet been made public, further complicating the calculations of cost.) Nearly 8 million people have been displaced. Check out Reuters’ factbox breaking down the costs and casualties here.
Perhaps the most sobering conclusion of the researchers is that it’s unclear whether the human and economic costs are worth it. Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden are now dead, the Taliban is marginalized, and the dangerous terrorist network al-Qaeda has been all but destroyed. But Iraq and Afghanistan are far from being stable democracies. Meanwhile, the half a percentage point a year in GDP growth the war has fueled has been offset by the enormous increase in the national deficit, the report says.
“We decided we needed to do this kind of rigorous assessment of what it cost to make those choices to go to war,” study co-director Catherine Lutz told Reuters. “Politicians, we assumed, were not going to do that kind of assessment.”
The researchers recommend that the U.S. government be more transparent in disclosing the costs of its wars to taxpayers, by including the costs of future health care for veterans, the cost of paying interest on debt taken out to fund the wars, and estimating how much state and local governments take on in war costs. You can see their recommendations here.
(Afghan National Army tanks: U.S. Navy)