The staggering cost of endless wars
While President Biden wrestles with the fallout from the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, the task of calculating just how much money American taxpayers have spent on the two decade-old global war on terror continues. An early estimate from Brown University’s Cost of War project puts the price tag at around $8 trillion:
Researchers for the project reported direct war costs, which include all Department of Defense Overseas Contingency operations funding and State Department war expenditures, and counterterror war-related costs such as increases to the Pentagon’s base budget, care for veterans to date and in the future, spending by the Department of Homeland Security, and interest payments on borrowing for these wars.
Of the approximately $8 trillion estimated cost of the wars, $2.3 trillion can be attributed to the war zones in Afghanistan and Pakistan, $2.1 trillion to the war zones in Iraq and Syria, and $355 billion was attributed to other war zones.
The total also includes $1.1 trillion of related spending by Homeland Security and an estimated $2.2 trillion earmarked for future veterans’ care, including future medical care and disability payments, over the next decades.
These estimates do not include all the money provided for humanitarian assistance and economic development aid in Afghanistan and Iraq, nor the future costs of interest payments on borrowing to pay for the wars after fiscal year 2023, nor spending by state or local governments for counterterrorism or services for post-Sept. 11 war veterans. It also does not include spending by the dozens of US allies, such as Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania, Germany, and France.
The final tab, then will be substantially higher, and won’t be fully settled until long into the future. The obvious question: was is worth it? And then there’s the human cost:
- At least 387,072 civilians died due to direct war violence. This does not include the nearly 301,933 opposition fighters killed. Others include about 680 journalists and 892 humanitarian aid workers who were killed as a direct result of war.
- Approximately 7,052 members of the US military were killed as a direct impact from the post-Sept. 11 wars. That does not include the 8,189 US contractors, 21 defense department civilian workers, or the 204,645 to 207,845 national military or police killed.
- All together, about 929,000 people were killed from the post-Sept. 11 wars, which is an increase from previous estimates of 801,000.
So much death, so many dollars spent. All to end in retreat.