Conflicts, Security, Military, U.S. Foreign Policy

U.S. military casualties and the costs of war: Iraq, Afghanistan and post-9/11 conflicts

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Last updated: October 22, 2013

Arlington Cemetery (Wikimedia)
Arlington Cemetery (Wikimedia)

The “costs” of the post-9/11 conflicts can vary according to the research organization doing the estimates and depend on the particular focus and units of measurement.

For example, the “Costs of War” project, based at Brown University, estimates that the total monetary cost — including long-term veterans care — of the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan may eventually total as much as $4 trillion. (For March 2013 estimates on Iraq, see here.) A 2011 Congressional Research Service report, “The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11,″ estimated that the total price tag through fiscal year 2011 was $1.28 trillion for such purposes as military operations, base security, reconstruction, foreign aid, embassy costs and veterans’ health care.

A March 2013 paper from Harvard Kennedy School budget expert Linda Bilmes estimates that the total costs for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars may run as high as $6 trillion, depending on how long-term macroeconomic factors play out. Further, “the legacy of decisions made during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts will impose significant long-term costs on the federal government, and in particular, on the consolidated national security budget.”

The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments notes that the 2012 defense budget included $118 billion in requests to support operations in the current conflicts; the Center also notes that, as of 2012, $813 billion had been spent on Iraq and $445 billion on Afghanistan. The New York Times estimated that the United States spent $3.3 trillion in the decade after the 9/11 attacks; this figure included not only military operations and future veterans care, but also the economic fallout from the terrorist attacks and associated homeland security costs. A Congressional Budget Office report estimates that by 2020 the price of treating Iraq and Afghanistan veterans alone could be more than $8 billion annually.

But dollars and cents are not the only way to measure the conflicts’ cost. The Brown University project estimated that together, all countries involved have lost a total of 31,000 uniformed service members and military contractors. In addition, the researchers estimated in 2011 that between 152,280 and 192,550 civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan have died as a “result of the fighting at the hands of all parties.” In March 2013, the Brown researchers revised the civilian total estimate to 200,000; and they estimated that 330,000 people had been killed overall as a result of the conflicts, accounting for all soldiers, militants, police, contractors, journalists, humanitarian workers and civilians involved.

A 2013 study published in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS One Medicine, “Mortality in Iraq Associated with the 2003–2011 War and Occupation,” estimates that the war and occupation caused about 460,000 deaths. Using surveys and other data, the authors find the “wartime crude death rate in Iraq to be 4.55 per 1,000, more than 50% higher than the death rate of 2.89 during the two-year period preceding the war.” However, these estimates carry significant uncertainty. The study, which the authors state is the most comprehensive to date, also notes:

The risk of death at the peak of the conflict in 2006 almost tripled for men and rose by 70% for women. Respondents attributed 20% of household deaths to war-related violence. Violent deaths were attributed primarily to coalition forces (35%) and militia (32%). The majority (63%) of violent deaths were from gunshots. Twelve percent were attributed to car bombs.

Another 2013 study, published in The Lancet, had generally lower estimates: “At least 116,903 Iraqi non-combatants and more than 4800 coalition military personnel died over the 8-year course. Many Iraqi civilians were injured or became ill because of damage to the health-supporting infrastructure of the country, and about 5 million were displaced.”

Moreover, the New America Foundation estimates that as many as 307 civilians have been killed as a result of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan between 2004 and fall 2013; the estimates go up if the Yemen theater is included. Those estimates are being refined by further reports from organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

Of course, the number of service members killed in action is central to any such analysis. A February 2013 Congressional Research Service report, “U.S. Military Casualty Statistics: Operation New Dawn, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom” (PDF), updates data relating to the post 9/11 conflicts, including the numbers of wounded. (Operation Enduring Freedom refers to the Afghanistan conflict; Operation New Dawn refers to the Iraq War during the final transition phase, which ended in December 2011.)

The report notes the following:

  • During the Iraq War, 4,475 U.S. service members were killed and 32,220 were wounded; in Afghanistan, 2,165 have been killed and 18,230 wounded through Feb. 5, 2013.
  • Among service members deployed in these conflicts, 103,792 were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) over the period 2002 to December 2012. Over that same period, 253,330 service members were diagnosed with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) of some kind.
  • As a result of battle injuries in the Iraq War, 991 service members received wounds that required amputations; 797 lost major limbs, such as a leg. In Afghanistan, 724 have had to undergo amputations, with 696 losing a major limb.

A wide variety of other related research, both academic and government-produced, is available in the veterans section of the Journalist’s Resource database.

Tags: veterans, war


Writer: | October 22, 2013

Citation: Fischer, Hannah. “U.S. Military Casualty Statistics: Operation New Dawn, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom," Congressional Research Service, Feb. 5, 2013.

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