US cost of war at least $3.7 trillion

2011-06-29 10:35

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 US Treasury and ignores more imposing costs yet to come, according to a recently released study.

The final bill will run up to at least $3.7 trillion and could reach 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 US troops went into Afghanistan to root out the al-Qaeda leaders behind the September 11 2001, attacks, spending on the conflicts totalled $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.

Was it worth it?

"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 US Congress and the Pentagon.

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

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

"I hope that when we look back, whenever this ends, something very good has come out of it," Senator Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, said in Washington.

In one sense, the report measures the cost of 9/11, the American shorthand for the events of September 11 2001. Nineteen hijackers plus other al-Qaeda plotters spent an estimated $400 000 to $500 000 on the aeroplane attacks that killed 2 995 people and caused $50bn to $100bn in economic damages.

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

Cutting the deficit

Was it worth it? That is a question many people want answered, said Catherine Lutz, head of the anthropology department at Brown and co-director of the study.

"We decided we needed to do this kind of rigorous assessment of what it cost to make those choices to go to war," she said. "Politicians, we assumed, were not going to do that kind of assessment."

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

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.

"The United States has been extremely successful in protecting the homeland," said George Friedman, founder of Stratfor, a US-based intelligence company.

Mixed results

"Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan was capable of mounting very sophisticated, complex, operations on an intercontinental basis. That organisation with that capability has not only been substantially reduced, it seems to have been shattered," Friedman said.

Economically, the results are also mixed. War spending may be adding half a percentage point a year to growth in the gross domestic product but that has been more than offset by the negative effects of deficit spending, the report concludes.

Some US government reports have attempted to assess the costs of war, notably a March 2011 Congressional Research Service report that estimated post-September 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.

The report draws on those sources and pieces together many others for a more comprehensive picture.

The report also makes special note of Pakistan, a front not generally mentioned along with Iraq and Afghanistan. War has probably killed more people in Pakistan than in neighbouring Afghanistan, the report concludes.

Overlooking the costs

Politicians throughout history have underestimated the costs of war, believing they will be shorter and less deadly than reality, said Neta Crawford, the other co-director of the report and a political science professor at Boston University.

The report said former President George W Bush's administration was "shamelessly politically driven" in underestimating Iraq war costs before the 2003 invasion.

Most official sources continue to overlook costs, largely because of a focus on just Pentagon spending, Crawford said.

"Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war," Obama said in last week's speech on reducing US troop levels in Afghanistan. At the very least, he was rounding down by $200bn to $300bn, when counting US congressional appropriations for the post 9/11 wars.

"I don't know what the president knows, but I wish it were a trillion," Crawford said. "It would be better if it were a trillion."

In theory, adding up the dollars spent and lives lost should be a statistical errand. The US Congress appropriates the money, and a life lost on battlefield should have a death certificate and a casket to match.

Caring for veterans

The team quickly discovered, however, the task was far more complicated.

Specific war spending over the past 10 years, when expressed in 2011 dollars, comes to $1.3 trillion, the "Costs of War" project found. When it comes to accounting for every dollar, that $1.3 trillion is merely a good start.

Since the wars have been financed by deficit spending, interest must be paid - $185bn so far.

The Pentagon has received an additional $326bn to $652bn beyond what can be attributed to the war appropriations, the study found.

Homeland security spending has totalled another $401bn so far that can be traced to September 11. War-related foreign aid: Another $74bn.

Then comes caring for US veterans of war. Nearly half of the 1.25 million who have served in uniform in Iraq and Afghanistan have used their status as veterans to make health or disability claims at an expense of $32.6bn to date.

Elusive costs

Those costs will soar over the next 40 years as veterans age. The report estimates the US obligations to the veterans will reach $589bn to $934bn through 2050.

So far, those numbers add up to a low estimate of $2.9 trillion and a moderate estimate of $3.6 trillion in costs to the US Treasury. No high estimate was offered.

"We feel a conservative measure of costs is plenty large to attract attention," said report contributor Ryan Edwards, an economist who studied the war impact on deficit spending.

Those numbers leave out hundreds of billions in social costs not born by the US taxpayer but by veterans and their families: Another $295bn to $400bn, increasing the range of costs to date to around $3.2 trillion to $4 trillion.

That's a running total through fiscal 2011. Add another $453bn in war-related spending projected for 2012 to 2020 and the total grows to $3.668 trillion to $4.444 trillion.

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

Unsatisfactory body count

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 invasion - 10 000 - are loose estimates. The US military does not publish a thorough accounting.

"We don't do body counts," Tommy Franks, the US 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.

"When the fighting stops, the indirect dying continues. It's in fact worse than land mines. The healthcare system is still in bad shape. People are still suffering the effects of malnutrition and so on," Crawford said.

Even where the United States does do body counts - for the members of the military - the numbers may come up short of reality, said Lutz, the study's co-director. When veterans return home, they are more likely to die in suicides and automobile accidents.

"The rate of chaotic behaviour," she said, "is high."

  • jovie - 2011-06-29 10:48

    That one reason why i dont believe the propaganda that comes out of the US!

      RACINGCAT - 2011-10-13 08:37

      Americans are better liars than Africans.... they invented lying..

      McDaNife - 2011-10-13 08:44

      From millions to billions now trillions all in a few years and those are in dollars. That is a cost of war or should I say to sift out Al-Qaeda leaders. Mind bogling if converted into our currency. What next.

      Joseph - 2011-10-21 21:32

      One day America will totally collapse and that will createa a major threat to world security.America should change its foreign policy before it is too late,i am afraid if it continue with the current policy a big danger to the world security is coming.

      goyougoodthing - 2011-11-22 19:47

      And all along Al-Qaeda have been looking for themselves. The CIA IS Al Qaeda. Look it up.

  • Ascendo Tuum - 2011-06-29 11:04

    There's no money to be made with peace

      Liberty - 2011-06-29 12:29

      It's the contractors that makes all the money but the taxpayers that loses

      Scuzzi - 2011-06-29 16:11

      so if war is a moneymaker, why is the US in a trillion dollar deficit?

  • Gorilla - 2011-06-29 11:06

    Wow. Just imagine how many RDP houses that could build.

      umlaut - 2011-06-29 11:39

      Gorilla---you say RDP housing-----everyone could have had a zuma villa with a Mbeki wall around it for that money---!!!!!

  • nodrog - 2011-06-29 11:06

    Bombimg for peace is like f@#$ing for virginity.

      DoublySalmon - 2011-06-29 12:58

      How do you make more virgins? Anyway - I hope we get to enjoy stable oil supplies at cheaper prices. If they didn't invade for oil then they made a stupid "investment".

      Picasso - 2011-10-13 08:00

      nodrog, with some people you can not negotiate, war is the only language they understand.

  • mamakalami - 2011-06-29 11:13

    Fools, the country is in a recession and they are spending all that money in a war.

      Sooth Slayer - 2011-06-29 12:56

      Look, its not like they are paying the money to someone outside the US. all their guns are manufactured in the US (or maybe by underpaid Chinese or taiwanese people) but the point is the bulk of the money circulates in the USA still. Me thinks this whole recession thing was just a well calculated ploy for the few to own everything including the little that was almost in the hands of the majority.

  • trunkbutt - 2011-06-29 11:18

    US puts the ANC to shame when it comes to wasteful spending

      Picasso - 2011-10-13 08:04

      Not really, the US spent the money for a better America, the ANC for self enrichment. In the past almost 10 years (with more than 40 of the world's most wanted terrorist being caught and killed) no terrorist had a chance to attack America on home soil. The question is: how much money is the American lifestyle worth - for politicians AND for the public?

      Rikhogrande - 2011-10-13 08:27

      @Pic... Not really,in the US wars the only people that benefit are politically connected war contractors that supply arm, security equipment and other stuff, the contractors that are responsible for the rebuilding of countries (at the cost of oil of coarse) that the US has decimated. And the ordinary American tax payer foots the bill for the war and whatever costs that arise after it. So yes the ANC are armatures at this game and we MUST keep it that way.

  • McDaNife - 2011-06-29 11:20

    Mama mia they are now talking in trillions and that just to war for what just to nail Saddam hussein and Osama bin lade. Was that worth it. For every one 9/11 victim they had to kill 73. And i thought the world was in recession.

  • Rikhogrande - 2011-06-29 11:27

    "including 125 000 civilians in Iraq", and the ICC does nothing, but if it were an African leader that did such, he would be hung for all to see, just like they will do to Gadaffi.

      umlaut - 2011-06-29 12:28

      The first and 2nd world wars all had casualties of civilians--the icc must then go for all the countries that were involved??No, surely not.-- If the hitman Hitler was a good boy and he didn't threaten the world, nothing would have happened, and the same goes for all the other. So the objective was to fight for piece. The objective of America was not to kill civilians but all knew that civilians would be killed in war. Gadaffi had as an objective to kill civilians, woman and children, as to stay in power -that is the differnce. Mugabe had a go at civilians long ago-he is the same as Gedaffi. The same with Bechier and Idi Amin.

      pierreedge - 2011-06-29 16:52

      hmmm Umlaut, first it's not as clear cut as that, i mean gadaffi wasnt killing his people before the rebels wanted to seize power, he started using heavy artillery after... When isreal kills over 1500 civilians in gaza a couple of years ago (Including THREE HUNDRED CHILDEN and a school), their excuse was that hamas was hiding in civilian areas and the world says "yes yes, quite right, isreal has the right to defend itself bla blabla), when gadafi says that the rebels were hiding in civilians areas, he gets a warrant for his arrest. Dont get me wrong, i dont support this crazy guy who stands in the same bunch as the colonels in the isrealy army who murdered the 1500 palestinians, but this shows that we live in a world of double, triple and sometimes quadruple standards. Rikogrande, this view that bush should be tried at the ICC for at least the murder of 125 000 iraqui civilians and invading a country on false pretenses is widely spread throughout the world, but that's not going to happen...

  • SPACEBOI - 2011-06-29 11:29

    With all the fiscal and budget deficit US/OBAMA 2012 is in trouble.

  • Kaapie - 2011-06-29 11:29

    And they still havent won a war.. the only war the Americans have won is the civil war.. furthermore, nada

      umlaut - 2011-06-29 12:39

      Yes that is why you must not mess with the Americans--if they get into your country to fight, get out as soon as possible because they will mess it up completely. They will oust someone and that is all that they will achieve. In Iraq they should have blown up Hussein's parliament and sponsered civilians to attack the regime -it would have been much cheeper.

  • JP - 2011-06-29 11:39

    That amount of money could have helped billions of people that live in complete poverty. What a complete waste of money!

      pierreedge - 2011-06-29 16:55

      Absolutely, to see so much money, an astronomical amount in fact, spent to kill people while so many people suffer hunger and malnutrition in the world is simply INDECENT. FOUR THOUSAND BILLIONS...the mind boggles

  • JJRR - 2011-06-29 11:43

    CHANGE!!! Ja sure! van 1 oorlog na 4. We are going to bring the troops home!! Bye bye in 2012!!!!!!!

  • Dar - 2011-06-29 11:49

    they forgot to add the profits American Companies made from the wars could be ten times that amount!

  • Don Waan - 2011-06-29 11:50

    Just goes to show where the root of terrorism in this world stems from... the arrogant US war machine. Just funny how they never run out of money. Then again, they control the world's financial system. Countries should switch from the dollar to the original trading currency of gold. Global financial stability will then surely improve. And the US will think more wisely in its usage of its funds.

  • mary999 - 2011-06-29 11:53

    So they kill millions of civilions, Squader money &have barely anything to show for their efforts yet the world says nothing! The American people are so blinded they believe all the lies fed to them! America needs to start minding their own business.for all the damage they'v den God will be fair. Watch out for the fall of the American empire!

      satanslord - 2011-11-25 10:16

      Leave that to mother nature.

  • Michael - 2011-06-29 11:58

    I wonder why "western dog" called ICC doesn't prosecute these yanks and allies for the civilian deaths they caused. Also bet that if this wasteful expenditure came from an African country, we could be running out of comment space here. Now that it's westerners involved, the regular "brakkies" have their tails between their legs.

  • meelo - 2011-06-29 12:03

    Al-Qaeda the most sophisticated group ever, who works out of caves and who can orchestrate destruction to the T. That's so convincing. If USA is really freedom fighters why not fix Mexico, Africa, Columbia, etc

      Singo - 2011-06-29 13:05

      which freedom they fight for?You know good damn well that the US soildiers become murderers and rapists when they go to do the so called freedom fights.It is better if they fight in the US alone.I thought Bush was the last man to alloow these his men fight other countries like that.But now we have Obama doing the same.

  • Grunk - 2011-06-29 12:07

    Don't forget ladies that as per usual (because the article is based on US material) that this is only half the story. This is the cost TO THE US. What about the people, infrastructure et al that they have reduced to rubble. Oh that belongs to the "enemy" - that doesn't matter!! They are not people. So let's say that the war has cost $10 Trillion - it would be nearer the truth

  • Badger - 2011-06-29 12:13

    That is what the US is spending on war. Now imagine what the owners/board members etc of these companies that supply the US government with arms are earning ?????????

  • Liberty - 2011-06-29 12:34

    Just from a economic standpoint 4.4 trillion dollars could have cut their deficit substantially and boosted the economy enormously. I doubt that they would have had these economic problems had it not been for these wars. That's where terrorist groups has leverage on the West. They know it costs next to nothing to plant a bomb somewhere and kill a lot of people, and yet the usual Western response is to send in their armies at a cost of millions a day. The West will have to seriously rethink their approach

  • Sooth Slayer - 2011-06-29 12:53

    That's very little considering how much they are raking from Iraq'a oil and the drugs in Afghanistan. Besides all that war money is going to US companies owned by Dick Cheney and company. So lets get this straight. Treasury pays Dick Cheney and co. trillions of dollars for guns, bombs and grenades etc. Then Bush and co. drill the oil and split the money with cheney and company. all these transactions are conducted through the very same banks, which... wait for it... got 700 billion dollars from the same treasury a few months ago! I mean, ok now... somebody help me out here. this is too much!

      Irené - 2011-06-29 13:07

      Its a genius, albeit evil plan! and thanks to the stupid and passive masses these b***ards have been getting away with it for far too long. Insane

  • Darkie_Ekasi - 2011-06-29 13:06

    So let me get this straight, the so called “Terrorist” spent a mere US$500,000 to cause THE world super power to over-spend more than US$3,000,000,000,000 (on 3 wars), US$2,000,000,000,000 (on “soft” war till 2020 and war veterans and survivors), US$40,000,000,000 (on compensation of 911 victims). Makes me wonder who is really financing this war. Unfortunately my friends, it’s you and I who’s indirectly financing it by watching latest American movies, snacking on McDonalds, using coolest McApple/iPhone/iPad or as I’m typing this message on MS Office. Neither Americans nor so-called “Terrorist” are stupid but you and I…

  • Daemos1 - 2011-06-29 13:15 long as everyone had a good time

  • ZACKIE - 2011-06-29 13:19

    the usa's biggest export to the middle east is death

      Barry - 2011-10-22 18:14

      I agree. Nothing good can come from the USA for the rest of the world

  • Fikile - 2011-06-29 13:49

    remember, to pay you WAR TAX the next time u fill up

  • preshengovender69 - 2011-06-30 08:42

    one thing good that come out of the war was call of duty series

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