The Uncertain Cost of the Global War on Terror

  • Aug 9, 2007

    The economic cost of the war is less important than the human costs. The Iraq War alone has so far cost the lives of roughly 100,000 Iraqi civilians and wounded many times more. It has driven over two million out of the country, displaced more than two million within Iraq, and reduced eight million Iraqis to dire poverty. It has killed over 3,700 Coalition forces, including over 3,600 American military personnel, and wounded well over 27,000.

    At the same time however, the dollar cost of the war is scarcely something that U.S. strategy and military planning can ignore. There is no end in sight to either the conflict in Iraq or Afghanistan, and there is no way to predict the final cost in either blood or dollars. The costs of the global war on terror in FY2007 continued to escalate at an alarming pace. As enacted, DoD received $165.8 billion for FY2007, or more than 40 percent above FY2006 and 50 percent higher than the $110 billion projected by OMB last year.

    If Congress approves the FY2008 war requests, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) estimates that total funding for Iraq and the Global War on Terror would reach about $758 billion, including about $567 billion for Iraq, $157 billion for Afghanistan, $29 billion for enhanced security, and $5 billion unallocated. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the Defense Department is currently obligating an average of almost $11 billion a month for expenses related to its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and for other activities related to the war on terrorism. Most of that sum (more than $9 billion per month) is related to Iraq.

    The CRS found that the estimates of expenditures being issued by the U.S. government understated the real cost of operations because they included only current obligations, not the cost in terms of worn equipment, future replacements, paying the long-term costs of increased pensions and payments for killed and wounded, and paying for a long list of additional costs such as support by the national intelligence agencies.

    There is no way to do more than guess at the ultimate cost of the Iraq War, the Afghan War, and the war on terrorism. CBO projected the cost of war for the 2008-2017 period under two scenarios. The first case assumes a more rapid drawdown of the troops deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places in support of GWOT operations; the cost in such a situation would range from $481 to $603 billion, depending on the duration of the surge in Iraq. Under a second scenario, assuming a more gradual drawdown, the extra cost for the next decade would be between $924 and $1,010 billion, again depending on how long the current level of troops is maintained in Iraq.

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Anthony H. Cordesman