The price tag for military operations in Afghanistan and
Iraq since the 9/11 attacks is somewhere between $3.7 and $4.4 trillion,
according to a new report released today. The staggering figure is nearly four
times higher than the U.S. government estimate. Just last week, President Barack
Obama pegged the cost over the last decade at $1 trillion.
The new estimated cost provided by a research project
at Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies, is also much
higher than most previous attempts to quantify the operations.
A March 2011 Congressional Research Service report estimated
the war funding at $1.4 trillion through 2012 and the Congressional Budget
Office pegged the cost from 2001 through 2021 at an estimated $1.8 trillion,
according to Reuters.
A 2008 report
by economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, however, put the estimated combined
cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars between $5 and $7 trillion. They included
interest on debt, future borrowing to pay off debt, the cost of a continued
military presence, and health care and counseling for veterans.
Catherine Lutz, a professor of anthropology at Brown and one
of the project's directors, told Foreign
Policy her group also took into account future costs, such as obligated
expenses for injured soldiers in the decades to come.
According to a White House spokesperson, the number
disparity between the trillion-dollar figure the president used this month and the
Brown report comes down to methodology -- and what you choose to include. The
administration is counting only the "direct costs of war," the spokesperson
said, which includes just the money appropriated for the budgets of the
Pentagon, State Department, and intelligence community. Officially, the White House says the "total
amount appropriated for war-related activities" is $1.3 trillion, which could
rise to $1.4 trillion in 2012.
Nora Bensahel, a senior fellow at the Center for a New
American Security, said it's fair to include more than just the cost of current
operations when coming up with the "total cost" of the war -- including things such
as veteran care.
"There are people who are being injured today who will need
health care for a long time after the conflict ends," she said. "That's not
part of the current cost, but it's certainly directly related."
Bensahel, who has not read the entire report, said other expenses
mentioned in the press were less fair -- including factoring in lost opportunity
"I don't think that's an appropriate cost to include because
every expenditure of money includes some trade-offs," she said.
According to the report, the United States has already spent
between $2.3 and $2.6 trillion on Iraq and Afghanistan. The project also looked
at the cost of war in terms of human casualties. The number of total deaths it calculates
(225,000) is "a very conservative estimate," said Lutz.
"Seeing the death toll, how many of the allied uniform folks
have died and seeing the civilian numbers was the biggest shock for me," she
31,741 uniformed allied soldiers and contractors -- from U.S.,
Iraqi, Afghan, and Pakistani security forces, as well as contractors -- have
been killed. And the report claims that at least 137,000 civilians have been
killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Journalists and humanitarian workers accounted for between
434 and 521 deaths.
The goal of the project was to give the public "a fuller
sense of what's at stake," Lutz said. "I think it's the case that we've had an
atrophying of public information sources [looking into these questions].
Journalism is in a challenged state and there's a real heavy spin machine out
there. Whatever one's political project, it's accompanied by a heavy dose of
misinformation. We really feel it's important for foreign policy and domestic
policy decision-making to know this information."