The wars begun in 2001 have been tremendously painful for millions of people in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, and the United States, and economically costly as well. Each additional month and year of war adds to that toll. Moreover, the human costs of these conflicts will reverberate for years to come in each of those four countries. There is no turning the page on the wars with the end of hostilities, and there is even more need as a result to understand what those wars’ consequences are and will be.
The goal of the Costs of War Project has been to outline a broad understanding of the domestic and international costs and consequences of those wars. A team of 30 economists, anthropologists, political scientists, legal experts, and physicians were assembled to do this analysis. Their research papers are posted and summarized on this website.
- What have been the wars’ costs in human and economic terms?
- How have these wars changed the social and political landscape of the United States and the countries where the wars have been waged?
- What have been the public health consequences of the wars?
- What will be the long term legacy of these conflicts for veterans?
- What is the long term economic effect of these wars likely to be?
- Were and are there alternative less costly and more effective ways to prevent further terror attacks?
Some of the project’s findings:
- Our tally of all of the war’s recorded dead — including armed forces on all sides, contractors, journalists, humanitarian workers and civilians — shows that over 350,000 people have died due to direct war violence, and many more indirectly.
- Indirect deaths from the wars, including those related to malnutrition, damaged health infrastructure, and environmental degradation, must also be tallied. In previous wars, these deaths have far outnumbered deaths from combat and that is likely the case here as well.
- 220,000 civilians have been killed as a result of the fighting at the hands of all parties to the conflict, and more will die in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan as the violence continues. But most observers acknowledge that the number of civilians killed has been undercounted. The true number of civilian dead may be much larger when an adequate assessment is made.
- While we know how many US soldiers have died in the wars (over 6,800), what is startling is what we don’t know about the levels of injury and illness in those who have returned from the wars. New disability claims continue to pour into the VA, with 970,000 disability claims registered as of March 31, 2014 . Many deaths and injuries among US contractors have not been identified.
- Millions of people have been displaced indefinitely and are living in grossly inadequate conditions. The number of war refugees and displaced persons — 6.7 million — is equivalent to all of the people of Massachusetts fleeing their homes.
- Iraq’s health, infrastructure, and education systems remain war-devastated.
- The armed conflict in Pakistan, which the US helps the Pakistani military fight by funding, equipping and training them, is in many ways more intense than in Afghanistan although it receives less coverage in the US news.
- The United States is at war in Yemen, having made an estimated 76 drone strikes in that country.
- The wars have been accompanied by erosions in civil liberties at home and human rights violations abroad.
- The human and economic costs of these wars will continue for decades, some costs not peaking until mid-century.
- The US federal price tag for the Iraq war — including an estimate for veterans' medical and disability costs into the future — is about $2.2 trillion dollars. The cost for both Iraq and Afghanistan/Pakistan is going to be close to $4.4 trillion, not including future interest costs on borrowing for the wars. Many of the wars’ costs are invisible to Americans, buried in a variety of budgets, and so have not been counted or assessed. For example, while most people think the Pentagon war appropriations are equivalent to the wars’ budgetary costs, the true numbers are twice that, and the full economic cost of the wars much larger yet.
- As with former US wars, the costs of paying for veterans’ care into the future will be a sizable portion of the full costs of the war.
- The ripple effects on the US economy have also been significant, including job loss and interest rate increases, and those effects have been underappreciated.
- While it was promised that the US invasions would bring democracy to Afghanistan and Iraq, both continue to rank extremely low in global rankings of political freedom, with warlords continuing to hold power in Afghanistan with US support, and Iraqi communities more segregated today than before by gender and ethnicity as a result of the war.
- Women in both countries are essentially closed out of political power and high rates of female unemployment and widowhood have further eroded their condition.
- During the US troop withdrawal from Iraq, President Obama said that the United States military was leaving behind a “sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq.” This was not only an inaccurate account of Iraq’s situation at that time, but the country has since become less secure and politically stable
- Serious and compelling alternatives to war were scarcely considered in the aftermath of 9/11 or in the discussion about war against Iraq. Some of those alternatives are still available to the US.
There are many costs of these wars that we have not yet been able to quantify and assess. Given limited resources, we focused on the human toll in the major war zones, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan and on US spending, as well as on assessing the claims made for enhanced security, democracy, and women’s condition. There is still much more to know and understand about how all those affected by the wars have had their health, economies, and communities altered by the years of war, and about what solutions exist for the problems they face as a result of the wars’ destruction. (Page updated as of June 2014)