Amid a growing debate over how to bring down the government’s debt, a new study has concluded that U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan has cost up to $4 trillion over the past decade.
The study, by the nonpartisan Eisenhower Research Project based at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies, also estimates that at least 225,000 people, including civilians, troops and insurgents, have died as a result of the conflicts. Of that number, an estimated 6,000 were uniformed U.S. military personnel.
Pentagon spending accounts for only half of the budgetary costs incurred and represents a fraction of the full economic cost of the wars, according to the study. Among other line items, the study’s contributors — more than 20 economists, political scientists and other experts — estimate federal obligations to care for past and future veterans will eventually total $600 billion to $950 billion.
The estimates are based on reports from the Congressional Budget Office, the Congressional Research Service and myriad other sources.
The $4 trillion estimate could be fodder for lawmakers increasingly concerned that the United States can ill-afford to maintain a large military presence in Afghanistan.
The study’s authors say that’s a debate worth having.
“Some people will say that’s an expensive price tag, but what we’re trying to do makes it worth it. Other people will say we can’t afford it,” Catherine Lutz, co-director of the “Costs of War” project, said in an interview. “That’s the debate.”
Lutz said the group began its research about a year ago, but that it’s fortunate that the findings are being released in the midst of a major debate about government spending.
It “makes no sense” to have that debate without solid data, she said.