The United States’ invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq “taken together, will be the most expensive wars in US history – totaling somewhere between $4 to $6 trillion.” That’s the conclusion of a new study released last week by the Harvard Kennedy School.
The study’s title: The Financial Legacy of Iraq and Afghanistan: How Wartime Spending Decisions Will Constrain Future National Security Budgets. Its author is Linda J. Bilmes, the Kennedy School’s Daniel Patrick Moynihan Senior Lecturer in Public Policy.
Bilmes notes that the financial impact “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 US 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.
Thus far, the government has spent nearly $2 trillion “in direct outlays for expenses related to Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation New Dawn (OND),” Bilmes reports, including direct combat operations, reconstruction efforts, and other direct war spending by the Defense, State, and Veterans Affairs departments, and the Social Security Administration.
“However, this represents only a fraction of the total war costs,” she adds. “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.”
Those numbers have risen to “unprecedented levels,” she claims, noting, “More than half of the 1.56 million troops who have been discharged to date have received medical treatment at VA facilities and been granted benefits for the rest of their lives.”
The report covers four major areas of cost commitments:
I. Veterans health care and disability compensation
II. Pentagon personnel and health care policies and benefits
III. Other Department of Defense costs and commitments
IV. Financing of the wars
You can read the entire Harvard Kennedy School report here.
The Washington Post said last week that another authoritative study on the same issue by Brown University’s Eisenhower Research Project priced the invasions at roughly $4 trillion, with 330,000 killed by the violence.