The Bill for the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars: $4 to $6 Trillion
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The Bill for the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars: $4 to $6 Trillion


A recent report from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Linda Blimes put the combined cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at somewhere between $4 and $6 trillion dollars.

The report, The Financial Legacy of Iraq and Afghanistan: How Wartime Spending Decisions Will Constrain Future National Security Budgets presents some fascinating insights to the true long term costs of both wars.

The abstract of the report reads as almost a cautionary tale for future American administrations who might be considering some sort of long term intervention:

“The Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, taken together, will be the most expensive wars in U.S. 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 U.S. 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.”

Of note are the long term health care costs for service men and women who fought in these conflicts. Many soldiers are suffering from the effects of PTSD, dramatic brain injury, the loss of a limb or severe physical limitations. Many are unable to work and will require disability compensation for the rest of their lives. Indeed, the costs for such care and much needed benefits can will continue to mount for the foreseeable future.

As the report points out:

“The single largest accrued liability of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is the cost of providing medical care and disability benefits to war veterans. Historically, the bill for these costs has come due many decades later. The peak year for paying disability compensation to World War I veterans was in 1969 – more than 50 years after Armistice. The largest expenditures for World War II veterans were in the late 1980. Payments to Vietnam and first Gulf War veterans are still climbing.”

While overall deaths from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were low compared to the Vietnam War, part of this can be attributed to advances in medical technology to treat gravely wounded soldiers, leading to many lives saved. While this is a truly amazing accomplishment, the costs for aftercare are certain to be with the United States for a long time to come.

The report’s conclusion is also quite ominous:

“What did we buy for $4 trillion? The U.S. still faces a perilous international security situation and a fragile economy. Today as the country considers how to improve its balance sheet, it could have been hoped that the ending of the wars would provide a peace dividend, such as the one during the Clinton administration that helped Americans to invest more in butter and less in guns.

Instead, the legacy of decisions made during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts will impose significant long-term costs on the federal government, and in particular, on the consolidated national security budget.”

What are your thoughts? We want to know your opinion. Please share your ideas in the comment box below.

Jim Shepard
April 13, 2013 at 10:08

I cannot see how the USA can avoid becomming a third world country. The wars were lost. The costs are political as well as financial in the sense that the US military demonstrated its impotence against cheap, flexible, non-state, private militaries. The costs are to the American government and people. The profit is a direct transfer of wealth and power to the major families behind Haliburton, Lockheed, and all the profiteers and also to the organized crime industries and to the banks that launder a $ trillion of these illegal profits every year. This profit goes on to rot and destroy American society. If the US does further major warfare, such as in Iran, the American economy will collapse. This is why even Zbignief Brezhezhinski is desperately campaigning against it,

April 7, 2013 at 20:10

At one point or another throughout the post-World War II era, the United States has had hostilities with Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Vietnam, Pakistan, Serbia, Venezuela, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Nicaragua, Panama, Cuba, Somalia, etc.

Well what can I say; I guess there MUST be something horribly wrong with the Russians, Chinese, Iranians, North Koreans, Vietnamese, Pakistanis, Serbs, Venezuelans, Indonesians, Afghans, Iraqis, Libyans, Syrians, Sudanese, Nicaraguans, Panamanians, Cubans, Somalis, etc.

And this pattern isn't any different from the pre-World War II era.

April 7, 2013 at 20:07

There has to be an end to this silly narrative that the American people keep getting duped by whenever their leaders decide to invade a foreign country: that the target country's people are oppressed and begging for "liberation."

The Americans do not seem to understand that no matter how much oppression people in other countries may be living under, they will never accept any foreign invasion and occupation of their homeland launched in the name of liberating them, especially since most non-Americans are fully aware that American meddling always does little more than aggravate and worsen the existing situation; after all, the Americans created the sectarian conflict in Iraq that is spilling over into its neighbors, and they turned Afghanistan into a hotbed of factional fighting and the booming narcotics trade after installing one of the world's most corrupt and oppressive governments there. Just one tiny example: The US cheered the appointment of Afghanistan's first woman Attorney General who has imprisoned more than 100 women for "moral" crimes like adultery or choosing their own husbands.

Vid Beldavs
April 5, 2013 at 15:10

The Iraq Mistake needs to be separated from the Afghanistan conflict.   Were it not for the Iraq Mistake the Afghanistan conflict could have been resolved nearly a decade ago in cooperation with regional powers whose interests are peace in their neighborhood.   The Iraq Mistake made an effective, multilateral solution in Afghanistan impossible.  The Iraq mistake also converted Iran into a credible danger to US interests by removing a more or less stable competitor to Iran from its western border and converting Iraq into a power largely in collaboration with Iran.   By the time of 9-11-2001 the revolutionary fervor in Iran had died back considerably but the Iraq Mistake emboldened the revolutionary theocracy further damaging US long term interests.   This catastrophe occured at the worst possible time for the US when China was in ascendancy considerably weakening American capabilities to stabilize global conflicts and dramatically increasing the level of challenge for the US as well as setting the stage for the global economic crisis that reached a crescendo in 2008.   Was Al Quaeda the cause of the relative decline of the power and influence of the US as a consequence of the 9-11 attack, or was it the hubris of power that had infected American leadership after the collapse of the Soviet Union that led to the Iraq Mistake the causal factor?

April 4, 2013 at 19:49

I think the Americans get too worked up over the numbers as the USA couldn't find those figures in a physical form anyway. Its all B/S, all numbers.


They just need a decent accountant and a way to figure a few new numbers into thier accounts and Bobs ya Uncle. Its all done and dusted. Its not as if they paid all this in Gold. they threw a few figures into a bank account.


A trillion here, a gazillion there, its all fairydust.

April 4, 2013 at 19:44

I always thought the USAs position could be put as;

"Fight them there or fight them here, better to scrap in someone elses neighborhood than our own".


WW1, WW2, Korean, Vietnam, Iraq 1, Iraq2, Afghanistan, South China Sea, West Pacific,  South Pacific (oops last three haven't been fought yet, my bad)

April 4, 2013 at 18:27

The largest portion of that bill is yet to be paid.

– I wonder what portion of the bill HAS been paid? How much has it cost us up until this point? And how large is the future chunk of the bill that we'll be liable for? Is that for future medical costs?

April 4, 2013 at 06:08

Still says billion in the body as well…

April 4, 2013 at 04:44

My opinion is this: having essentially lost two wars at such a price, I am afraid future generations of both American leaders and American spectators will clamor for yet more war.  We may not admit defeat, but when the chance comes we will be cheering on yet another invasion in the name of allowing people to enjoy democracy. 

I sadly give us about ten to fifteen years before we launch yet another ill-considered war against some half-pint dictator in the name of boosting some moron's approval ratings in the White House.

April 4, 2013 at 04:40

The point being that Obamacare will be spent on Americans to save and improve their lives rather than killing a bunch of foreigners for no good reason and having our men and women come home broken in both body and mind.  That's the point.

Kevin Brent
April 4, 2013 at 00:42

Obamacare's price is $16,000,000,000,000. What's your point?

Lauren Garza
April 4, 2013 at 00:41

Excuse me, the headline should be 4 to 6 TRILLION

The Tom
April 4, 2013 at 00:41

Can we clarify Billion vs Trillion? I feel that we've had a bit of an incident.

April 4, 2013 at 00:28

Trillion, not Billion.

The Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, taken together, will be the most expensive wars in U.S. history – totaling somewhere between $4 to $6 trillion

April 4, 2013 at 00:21

"Instead, the legacy of decisions made during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts will impose significant long-term costs on the federal government, and in particular, on the consolidated national security budget.”

What are your thoughts?"

It's too early to tell. We have to wait for another 20 years.

Johnny B
April 4, 2013 at 00:20

Change your headline. That's TRILLION

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